Peak medical body labels Covid-19 review ‘half an inquiry’ after Albanese government excludes states | Health

rewrite this content and keep HTML tags Public health and legal experts have expressed disappointment at the narrow scope of the Covid-19 inquiry, with the Australian Medical Association president, Steve Robson, labelling it “half an inquiry” and warning the exclusion of states will “hobble” it.On Thursday Anthony Albanese revealed the inquiry would exclude “actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments”, which the human rights commissioner, Lorraine Finlay, warned could “deflect responsibility” for some aspects of Australia’s pandemic response.The scope and powers of the inquiry have already sparked a war of words with the Coalition, with shadow health minister, Anne Ruston, labelling it a “cop-out” and the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, accusing Labor of running a “protection racket” for state premiers.The prime minister rejected the criticism as “absurd” but deflected questions about whether the inquiry would have the power to compel premiers to appear, telling reporters that seeking “conflict” is “completely contrary” to its aims.Robson said that “looking at half the equation will hobble the ultimate inquiry”.“So much of the healthcare delivery and pandemic response was done by the states and territories … [that] a wide-ranging system-wide inquiry would make more sense,” he told Guardian Australia.“There will be another pandemic, no doubt about it. We need to be ready to go next time.“I’m scratching my head how it can come up with a meaningful plan if you take states and territories out of the equation.”Finlay welcomed the inquiry but said it was “disappointing” the terms of reference did not include an explicit reference to the human rights impacts of the pandemic response.“The terms focus on the direct health and economic impacts – human rights is the missing part of that,” she said. “School closures, border closures, vaccine mandates, curfews and lockdowns – these all had not just health and economic impacts, but a significant human rights impact.”Asked about the exclusion of state actions, Finlay said: “Australia is a federation and we need an inquiry that reflects that. We know during the pandemic actions of state and federal governments – separately and in combination – had a really significant impact.“We need to examine state and federal actions at the same time rather than attempt to deflect responsibility.“The pandemic itself showed it can be confusing about which level of government is responsible for the response. A review that doesn’t allow us to consider that isn’t properly reflective of Australia’s experience.”Finlay also noted it “isn’t clear” whether the inquiry would hold public hearings, which would be important to ensure “the voices of Australians are heard”.The infectious diseases physician Prof Peter Collignon agreed it was “problematic if [the inquiry] can’t look at what states did in Australia”, particularly because of the difficulty making international comparisons.skip past newsletter promotionOur Australian morning briefing breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it matters”,”newsletterId”:”morning-mail”,”successDescription”:”Our Australian morning briefing breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it matters”}” clientOnly config=”{“renderingTarget”:”Web”}”>Privacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotion“New South Wales was criticised for not going harder with restrictions, like Victoria, but NSW has done better if you look at excess deaths or Covid deaths,” he said. “Queensland allowed people outside more but border lockdowns impacted people in northern NSW.“Yes, we need restrictions but how hard do you go? If you exclude looking at variations around Australia – that makes it very difficult to judge public health settings.”Prof Nancy Baxter, a clinical epidemiologist and the head of the University of Melbourne school of population and global health, said she understood the government did not “want this to be bigger than Ben Hur but we are likely to miss important learnings”.The Australian Industry Group chief executive, Innes Willox, said it was “difficult to rationalise” the exclusion of states’ actions.“If the purpose of the commonwealth inquiry is to identify lessons learned to improve Australia’s preparedness for future pandemics, then excluding unilateral state actions is a major oversight to say the least,” Willox said.“While this inquiry is at one level very welcome, it falls short of the root and branch review that is required to ensure that governments work cohesively and respond holistically during the next inevitable pandemic.”The narrow approach has been defended by epidemiologist Prof Catherine Bennett, one of the three independent reviewers, and Prof Allen Cheng, the director infectious diseases at Monash Health and a former senior Victorian health department official.Bennett told Sky News that states had already held inquiries and the commonwealth inquiry would “pull all of that together, rather than look at the particular parts of this, to take a systems approach”.“It wasn’t up to us to set the terms of reference of this,” she said. “States have actually at varying stages been doing their own reviews – so it’s not necessary to reproduce or duplicate that work, but it is important to consider how it all worked nationally.”Cheng said he thought it was correct to examine the federal government’s response because it would be a future federal government to respond to a pandemic.“And then the state responses are best left with the states,” he said, citing the fact NSW Health had already conducted a review with 106 recommendations.


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