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Former deputy chief medical officer criticises royal commission into Covid-19

Australia’s former deputy chief health officer turned outspoken Covid-19 policy critic has rubbished the idea of a royal commission into the nation’s pandemic response.

Infectious diseases specialist Nick Coatsworth said a royal commission was “the wrong tool”, after an inquiry into Australia’s pandemic response recommended the sweeping probe be established.

The Labor-Green majority Senate committee found the Morrison government’s response was characterised by poor preparation and a failure to learn lessons as the pandemic continued.

The committee in its final report recommended a royal commission to ensure successive governments could be prepared for future Covid waves and pandemics.

Dr Coatsworth, who has been a forthright proponent of “living with the virus” rather than its attempted eradication through stringent restrictions, was quick to criticise the idea.

“Adversarial, antagonistic and will provide fringe voices a chance to prosecute the notion that somehow one of the best performing nations in the world got it wrong,” he wrote on Twitter not long after the committee’s final report was released.

“This is the wrong tool for the task. I will nonetheless relish the chance to speak to our successes.”

The “voices” invited to speak at any future royal commission would be outlined at a later date should one be called.

The Senate committee’s report, released on Thursday afternoon, said Australia fared much better than other countries throughout the “first wave” of the pandemic.

“But as the pandemic continued that advantage was significantly weakened by the government’s complacent approach and inability to lead a truly national response to the crisis,” the report said.

“As the pandemic progressed, major government decisions lacked transparency and were poorly communicated, poorly targeted, and poorly implemented.

“The government squandered important opportunities to take responsibility and learn from mistakes as Covid-19 took hold in Australia.”

Camera IconLabor senator Katy Gallagher says the royal commission isn’t the Opposition’s policy. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

A failure to establish quarantine facilities and organise a timely vaccine rollout were signalled out as the two major government failures.

The report made 19 recommendations, ranging from the establishment of a Centre for Disease Control and that government address parliament at least every two years on the state of Australia’s pandemic preparedness.

It also called to be made public all reports compiled for the National Covid-19 Commission Advisory Board, which included business people such as Nev Power.

Camera IconScott Morrison’s management of Covid may come under a microscope. Photo: NCA/ Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Committee chair Katy Gallagher said the report would be an “important building block” for a royal commission that would have stronger powers to compel information.

Speaking shortly after the report’s release, Senator Gallagher said she was yet to discuss its findings with her Labor colleagues and wouldn’t be drawn on whether an Albanese government would instigate a royal commission.

“That’s obviously a matter that would have to go to shadow cabinet (for) further consideration. This is not Labor’s policy,” she told journalists at Parliament House.

Senator Gallagher was critical of the national cabinet, made up of the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders, which she said had “failed” in its objective of providing a truly national response to the pandemic.

“We have been quite critical of the way the relationship between the national government and the states and territories has worked at times,” she said.

In a dissenting report, the committee’s deputy chair and Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson, and Nationals senator Perin Davey hit out at the Labor senators for derailing the intended purpose of the committee.

“While this committee was initially established with bipartisan support and a genuine desire to investigate issues of concern during a rapidly evolving pandemic, the committee has regrettably been used a vehicle in which Labor senators have pursued partisan attacks on the government,” they said.

“Which is reflected in the commentary in the majority report and was at times blatantly apparent during public hearings.”

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