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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Senate hearing: Government faces backlash as stakeholders slam refusal for COVID-19 Royal Commission

Health Industry Hub | February 2, 2024 |

Pharma News: In a scathing critique, Australia’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic has been labelled the ‘worst ever public health failing,’ prompting fervent calls for a comprehensive royal commission into the nation’s handling of the crisis. Despite initial promises by the Labor party for a royal commission during the 2022 election, the government’s decision to opt for a special commission of inquiry in September has drawn significant backlash.

The special commission’s terms of reference include crucial aspects such as vaccinations, treatments, and mental health support. However, it has conspicuously omitted investigations into contentious features like state-imposed lockdowns and mask mandates, leaving key stakeholders dissatisfied.

Dr Scott Prasser from the Australian Institute for Progress emphasised the imperative need for a royal commission, citing its unique coercive powers, the ability to request documents, summon witnesses, take evidence under oath, and conduct public hearings.

“We need to know what really happened,” Dr Prasser asserted yesterday during the Senate committee hearing Chaired by Senator Paul Scarr.

Graham Young, Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Progress, joined the chorus of criticism, asserting that the nation’s pandemic management amounted to “the worst ever public policy and public health failing in this country.” Mr Young underscored the importance of a diverse decision-making body to address the varied needs of the entire community.

The inquiry is expected to deliver its final report in September. However, the Australian Human Rights Commission staunchly advocated for a joint federal and state royal commission, deeming it the “best option” to thoroughly examine Australia’s pandemic response. Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay argued in a submission that the true human cost of the pandemic goes beyond direct health and economic impacts.

Various groups and bodies have put forth their recommendations for the scope of the inquiry. The Redfern Legal Centre prioritised a review of rapidly changing health orders, on-the-spot fines, and heavy reliance on policing. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners urged an assessment of the vaccine rollout, mental health impacts, health response measures like lockdowns, and public messaging.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation focused on hospital working conditions, funding, staffing levels, as well as preparedness and training. A civil liberties group proposed an examination of movement restrictions such as state border closures, while others scrutinised the use of emergency powers.

As the nation awaits the next steps, stakeholders remain frustrated over Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s refusal to hold a Covid royal commission.

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