Anthony Albanese to announce Covid inquiry, accused of breaking election promise

Anthony Albanese is set to announce a “deep inquiry” into the Covid-19 pandemic but has been accused of breaking a promise to hold a royal commission to appease Labor state premiers.

The failure to ensure the inquiry has the powers of a royal commission has sparked immediate concerns it will be a toothless tiger that does not adequately probe the state lockdowns and school closures.

Mr Albanese repeatedly raised the idea of an inquiry in the lead up to the federal election but sometimes provided wriggle room over whether it could be an inquiry or a royal commission.

“It’s beyond doubt we will need an assessment,” Mr Albanese said in January, 2022.

“When we get towards the end [of the pandemic], then you’d give consideration to that. Whether that would be a Royal Commission or some form of inquiry, it will need to happen.”

A month before the May 2022 election, Mr Albanese again confirmed an inquiry was warranted following a Senate investigation.

“I cannot envisage a situation in which, whoever wins, the government wouldn’t want to examine the once-in-a-century pandemic and the response. You have to do so. We have to examine it so we learn the lessons,” he said.

In opposition, Anthony Albanese promised that, if elected, there would be “a royal commission or some form of inquiry, that will need to happen”.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison has previously indicated he would co-operate with an inquiry but insisted it needed judicial powers to compel current and former state officials to appear as witnesses.

“Australia’s Covid response, while not perfect, is recognised as one of the best in the world, both in saving lives and livelihoods,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

“Throughout Covid we established an ongoing Senate inquiry to provide transparency and accountability in real time and identify important lessons along the way.

“Any serious retrospective inquiry that seeks to go back over this ground would be obsolete if it did not require equal attention and involvement of all state and territory governments who shared in Australia’s response to this one-in-a-100-year event.”

Former Treasurer Peter Costello has previously insisted Australians will look back in horror at some restrictions.

“I promise you, we will look back on 2020-21 and we’ll say, wow, we really closed workplaces? You weren’t allowed out of your home?,” Mr Costello said.

“If you walked around the block on your own you had to have a mask? How did we put up with that infringement of individual liberty?’

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher insisted before the election that any Covid inquiry needed deep powers and suggested a Senate committee, which heard from 679 witnesses over 56 public hearings, would act as “an important building block” for a royal commission.

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