MEDIA STATEMENT: Zali Steggall maintains call for COVID-19 Royal Commission

27 September 2023

Although I welcome the Government’s announcement to review Australia’s response to COVID-19, I maintain my call for the evaluation to be in the form of a Royal Commission, rather than the current proposed inquiry, and for the terms of reference to be broadened, including the specific inclusion of state and territory responses.  Royal commissions are the highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has today released figures which show that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2022.  If ever there was a need for a Royal Commission, the response to COVID-19 is it.

COVID-19 and the response by state and territory governments impacted every Australian. Lives were lost, families separated, businesses ruined, and children and adults impacted physically – both from the virus itself and vaccine injuries, mentally and emotionally, socially, and financially. People were impacted differently depending on their postcode, people stranded overseas or dying without their family, while others were permitted to travel and come in to the country. The Australian economy is now in record debt as a result of the pandemic economic support and lock down decisions. We need to learn what we did well, and what we did badly. We need to improve our systems and responses and ensure future measures, including the implementation of the Centre for Disease Control are managed optimally to reduce the negative consequences that were experienced by Australians, our economy and society.

A Royal Commission has greater powers than an inquiry to compel evidence, witnesses, and the production of documents. From an integrity point of view, the independence of judge in a Royal Commission ensures that there is no perceived conflict of interest, which will go some way to restore trust of governments and advisers. It is important that issues that have may not be covered adequately are fully investigated, including vaccine injuries, human rights considerations, the ongoing impacts from COVID-19 such as long covid and impacts on mental health and domestic violence.

Together with other leading organisations including the Human Rights Commission, the Australian Medical Association, and colleagues in the coalition, I call on the government to include broader terms of reference. It is of critical importance that state, and territory responses are included, especially in circumstances where State Governments took on the quarantine responsibilities and restricted numbers of entry into Australia. The approach adopted by states was so vastly inconsistent across the country and the lines of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the States was blurred. The current focus of the inquiry fails to include the impact on children, teenagers and young adults, a cohort so deeply impacted that it is neglectful to not consider how the response affected them, their education, and their wellbeing.

I have been in contact with the Minister’s office to seek a meeting with him in the coming weeks to advocate for a Royal Commission and the expansion of terms of reference.