National Cabinet has been ineffective at providing a national response to the pandemic, a senate committee on COVID-19 has found.
The final report of the Select Committee, which was established in 2020, makes 19 recommendations , including a call to the federal government to establish a Royal Commission into the pandemic response.
Chair of the committee Katy Gallagher told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that a royal commission is required because the government’s response has led to more cases and more deaths.
“We think there has been a number of failures which have weakened our response to the pandemic, she said.
“We think the government’s response has been characterised by a failure to be prepared, a failure to take responsibility, and then a failure to get it right.”
Shortcomings of National Cabinet
The committee examined numerous issues including the role of National Cabinet in responding to the pandemic.
“We think that the National Cabinet has failed in its objective of providing a truly national response to the pandemic,” Ms Gallagher said.
The National Cabinet was established in 2020 to oversee the health and economic response to the pandemic, clearing the way for the dismantling of COAG.
The committee said National Cabinet was created to serve as an “effective vehicle for securing agreement and consensus” and facilitate “information sharing between jurisdictions to inform and shape the response”.
“It did none of these things effectively,” it concluded said.
“Yet, from the outset, the Australian government was unable or unwilling to lead and foster consensus through the National Cabinet.
“States and territories were left to implement highly-localised and often highly-differentiated responses.”
As a result, local responses were “often inconsistent and failed to complement one another” and some state and territory leaders were at odds with other leaders, according to the report.
“In mid-2021, a prolonged public spat between Victoria and New South Wales over vaccine supplies and public health restrictions shook public confidence in the national response.”
Economic support measures from the federal government also differed between the states.
“In July 2021, for example, the Victorian Government accused the Prime Minister of a ‘double standard’ when the Australian Government provided a multibillion-dollar support package to NSW during its lockdown,” the report said.
“In contrast to Victoria having to ‘beg for every scrap of support’, according to the spokesperson.”
Lack of transparency
According to the report, there was a lack of transparency regarding the dealings of National Cabinet.
“A well-functioning National Cabinet should have been transparent and accountable, with its decisions subject to scrutiny and oversight. This has not been the case,” the report said.
The government has maintained that the National Cabinet is a committee of Cabinet and subject to Cabinet confidentiality, according to the report.
“On this basis, it has refused to disclose the deliberations of the National Cabinet (even in confidence).”
Along with the recommendation to establish a Royal Commission, the committee is also calling on the government to establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control.
This centre would examine Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to inform preparedness for future COVID-19 waves and future pandemics.
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