Did we learn the hard way?

7 February, 2024

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has warned that the government’s ongoing inquiry into the way the Covid-19 pandemic was handled is “insufficient” to calculate the true human cost of the pandemic.

The inquiry has been criticised since it was announced last September for not having the same powers as a Royal Commission and excluding from its scope decisions made solely by the states.

This means that some of the most controversial ‘fronts’ of the pandemic response, such as the shocks and the closure of state borders, will not be investigated.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Ms Lorraine Finlay said this inquiry, which is ongoing, was not the “best option” for preparing future emergency response planning.

Instead, he urged the Federal Government to consider setting up a joint Royal Commission with the states to better examine the “complex interactions” between the various jurisdictions.

It is undeniable that an inquiry of this calibre needs to focus in-depth on the impact of government decision-making on the human rights of citizens, given the lack of clarity that still exists around the reasons why certain restrictions were enacted.

Victorians “…lived with some of the most severely restrictive pandemic response measures in the world… (all of which) had an impact on individuals, families and communities,” Ms Finlay said.

What is surprising is that the Labour-led Senate committee investigating the pandemic recommended a Royal Commission of Inquiry.  The Labour party promised in the election campaign, if it won the 2022 election, to conduct that inquiry through a Royal Commission. However, it ultimately decided that a shallow and meaningless inquiry would suffice, which would never test the ‘wisdom’ of the traumatic decisions of state governments for citizens.

We never found out who ultimately made the decision on who would guard the quarantine hotels in Melbourne. We were also never advised on the health recommendations, if any, for the lockdowns or even the closure of the playgrounds.

A serious investigation by a competent Royal Commission is required to provide answers that will lead to a more adequate and less painful response to similar situations we may face in the future.

The “lesson” otherwise will never be “learned”.

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