State and territory lockdown decisions exempt from COVID pandemic inquiry

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Lockdowns and state border closures will be exempt from an inquiry into Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Health Minister Mark Butler announced a 12-month inquiry into the pandemic on Thursday.

Terms of reference include vaccinations, treatments and key medical supplies to Australians, mental health support for those impacted by COVID-19 and lockdowns, financial support for individuals and businesses, and assistance for Australians abroad.

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However, the inquiry will not probe individual state and territory decisions on lockdowns and other key decisions made by premiers and chief ministers during the pandemic.

“We need a future made in Australia, we need to be more resilient, we need to be more prepared for this in the future, and that’s precisely what this inquiry will be aimed at,” Albanese said in Adelaide.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton accused Albanese of protecting Labor state leaders, and of breaking a pledge he made to voters.

“The prime minister has made a decision which is not in our national interest, and it goes against what he promised to the Australian public,” he said in Sydney.

“Australians are smart enough to smell a rat here.”

The three experts appointed to the panel are former NSW Department of Health director-general Robyn Kruk, Deakin University’s chair in epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett, and health economist Dr Angela Jackson.

A final report will be handed down by September 30 next year.

The coalition has taken aim at the prime minister over whether a royal commission had been promised during the 2022 federal election campaign.

But Albanese refuted this, saying: “No one promised a royal commission.”

In May last year, he told reporters: “I support looking at it through a measure like a royal commission. We haven’t finalised what the structure would be.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Health Minister Mark Butler announce a 12-month pandemic inquiry. Credit: AAP

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said state and territory leaders needed to be held to account for their role in the response.

“If we are going to have an inquiry, you need to look at all aspects of the pandemic, particularly when you consider that many of the decisions that were made … by the states and territories are the ones that probably impacted Australians detrimentally,” she said.

Senator Ruston said the Albanese government’s ongoing response to the pandemic also needed to be investigated, including why increased numbers of older Australians were dying in aged care.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews denied the prime minister had potentially done him a favour, and promised his government would co-operate with the inquiry.

On the sidelines of the United Nations in New York on Thursday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the world had learnt some “pretty awful lessons as humanity in terms of lives lost”.

She announced $100 million for the World Health Organisation to support global efforts to prevent and respond to any future pandemic.

– With Tess Ikonomou and Callum Godde

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