A “deep” inquiry into Australia’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic will be launched during this term of government, the new Health Minister says.
But despite Labor leading the call during its time in opposition, Mark Butler now says that’s unlikely to happen until the pandemic has passed.
Mr. Butler won’t commit to a timeframe, saying right now, the focus is on getting through what is set to be a difficult winter as Covid-19 and the flu circle concurrently.
“I think ultimately we’re going to have to get through to the back end of this pandemic before we have the deepest possible view of what we did well and, frankly, what we need to do better in the future,” Mr. Butler told ABC Radio.
“There will be a debate about a royal commission or some other type of very deep inquiry here in Australia into our response to the pandemic.
“It would be unthinkable not to have some very deep process to learn the lessons – not just what we did well, but what we must do better into the future.”
Camera IconThe new government is receptive to a royal commission. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia
A select senate committee recommended earlier this year that a royal commission was needed for the pandemic, including the crisis in aged care, quarantine, vaccine rollout, and the rapid antigen testing debacle.
In its final report in April, the Labor-chaired committee called for greater transparency considering the “significant failures” that had caused “catastrophic consequences”, including 6000 deaths.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison said last year there would be “some time in the future” to discuss relevant reviews.
Mr. Butler said Australians faced a long winter full of sickness, particularly given the low uptake of Covid-19 booster shots and the first flu season since 2019.
“There are still more than six million people who are eligible for a booster right now who haven’t yet got it,” Mr. Butler said.
“We need to get the message out that you’re not fully protected against, particularly the Omicron variant unless you have three doses.”
He was pressed further on the timing for an inquiry but could not lay out a timeframe.
Camera IconHealth Minister Mark Butler said Australia needed to ‘get through winter’ before making any decisions about a potential royal commission. NCA NewsWire / Dean Martin Credit: News Corp Australia
“We need to get through winter, and ultimately, at some point, we will discuss the sort of royal commission or inquiry that makes sure that we learn the lessons and warebetter prepared next time,” he said.
“I don’t have a timeframe to put to you today … Once we start to reach a phase of the pandemic where it is appropriate to look back rather than focus on the challenges of the day, then we’ll have that.”
Mr. Butler is this week attending a G20 meeting where global leaders are discussing ways to better prepare and respond to global pandemics.
Also attending is Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who said the global community was continuing to deal with the challenges posed by Covid-19.
“This meeting is about strengthening health systems, economies, and friendships,” Mr. Chalmers said.