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Katy Gallagher’s Senate committee recommended a COVID royal commission a year ago

By Scott Prasser - posted Wednesday, 10 May 2023

A week ago the Albanese Government announced it would provide $50million for long COVID research following recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport.

This reminds us once again that the Albanese Government has still not appointed, as long promised, and as recommended by last year’s Senate COVID committee chaired by Katy Gallagher, now Finance Minister, that there be a “Royal Commission … to examine Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to inform preparedness for future COVID-19 and future pandemics”.

Although the House of Representatives Committee focussed specifically on long term COVID impacts, its chair, Labor parliamentarian Dr Mike Freelander acknowledged that throughout the inquiry “the topic of the national response and handling came up often” but was outside its terms of reference.


Consequently, the Committee recommended that “given the multiple questions that have arisen during our inquiry, that the Australian Government consider a comprehensive summit into the COVID-19 pandemic and Australia’s past and current response, including by governments at all levels...”

A comprehensive review certainly is needed, but a summit is largely just a talkfest of the many, an exercise in being seen to “do something”, about which little is ever done.

It is not the same as an independent royal commission with its coercive statutory powers of investigation, ability to call and question witnesses, procure files, assess data, conduct research, hear from experts and those personally affected by the pandemic, and to make public its findings and evidence.

While New Zealand and the United Kingdom currently have such royal commissions or similar  reviews underway and Sweden and Norway have long received reports from their independent inquiries, the Albanese Government after nearly twelve months in office continues to dither on this important issue. 

All we have had in Australia at a national level is a privately funded review headed by a former senior bureaucrat, which while making important points hardly constituted an independent, open, public inquiry.

Although Australia had one of the lowest pandemic death rates in the world, and our economy has bounced back, many concerns remain about our responses to the pandemic including: the rollout of the vaccines; contradictory state policy responses; the constitutionality and impacts of state border closures and lockdowns; suspension of parliamentary sittings and civil liberties; impacts of schools closures; the scientific basis of some responses; the role of the National Cabinet and the overall costs of the nation’s response.


As the recent Standing Committee report has highlighted, many public concerns remain about the pandemic and the future management of such events. Further, there is increasing evidence that some of the responses to the pandemic in Australia were based more on dogma than scientifically based research.

These concerns need to be resolved once and for all to stop fringe groups making false assertions and creating unnecessary fears, but more importantly, so we can really do it better if there ever is a next time.  

Certainly, appointing a national royal commission with wide terms of reference to assess both federal and state responses, with a cross-section of independent expert members and with proper resourcing is a challenging task, but that is what is needed, rather than a one or two-day summit which will be seen as just another political stunt.

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This article was first published in the Canberra Times on May 8, 2023.

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About the Author

Dr Scott Prasser has worked on senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments. His recent publications include:Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries in Australia (2021); The Whitlam Era with David Clune (2022) and the edited New directions in royal commission and public inquiries: Do we need them?. His forthcoming publication is The Art of Opposition reviewing oppositions across Australia and internationally. .

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