Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews has fielded terse questions about his pandemic decision-making that thrust his state into the world’s longest lockdown.
The state’s leader was grilled by Seven reporter Paul Dowsley on Friday on whether he would willingly take part in the Covid-19 inquiry announced by Anthony Albanese on Thursday.
“I’d be happy to,” he told reporters.
“We should all work together, we should all learn from an incredibly challenging and indeed in many respects so tragic period. We went through so much together,” he said.
“And it’s really important that we learn from that. We owe it to every frontline worker, every nurse, every doctor, every ambo … we now owe it to every family who grieves the loss of someone who passed away during that really difficult time. We owe it to everybody.”
He stressed that he was “more than happy” to be included in the inquiry should he be called on.
“More than happy to be involved to work together … I’m happy to appear, I’m happy to support their work. I’m sorry, if I’ve not been clear.
“I’m happy to be as involved as they want me to be.”
Asked if he would make different decisions if he could go back, he argued there was no point contemplating such matters.
“This is the whole thing, you don’t get a chance to go back,” he said, before Dowsley suggested that was the point of the inquiry.
“No it’s not, it’s about the future. It’s absolutely about the future. It’s about what the National Medical stockpile have to look like? How do we get vaccines here when we need them? Not months and years late?” Mr Andrews responded.
Dowsley continued to probe him on whether he was nervous about his lockdown decisions being criticised, which Mr Andrews shut down.
“That will be a matter for them. It’s not a state inquiry, it’s a national Inquiry. You’ve asked me ‘will I participate?’ Happy to, but it’s not it’s not an opportunity to go back and change things. No one gets that opportunity … there is no ‘How To’ guide, there’s no rule book for those specific decisions,” he said.
He was again asked to reveal what areas he wished he approached differently, responding that it was “a matter for others to judge”.
Dowsley pressed him once more, asking: “but what’s your thoughts on it?”, which Mr Andrews refused to answer.
“I’m not here to provide you with my thoughts, Paul,” he said.
“I don’t think any of us ever want to go back to a stage ever, where we have to have lockdowns because we don’t have a vaccine.
“And people conveniently forget this. We had lockdowns because we didn’t have a vaccine. I was not in charge of ordering the vaccines. The people who were, well, can speak for themselves.
“We weren’t looking for everyone to love the decisions we were making, we were looking to save lives.”
A senate select committee chaired by Labor – established in the absence of a royal commission in April 2020 months after the Covid-19 pandemic struck – recommended “a royal commission be established to examine Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic to inform preparedness for future Covid-19 waves and future pandemics”.
The Coalition said only a royal commission could “compel” states to make submissions and accused the government of seeking to protect premiers like Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk, who have been in power since before the pandemic.
Mr Albanese defended holding an inquiry, rather than a royal commission, on Thursday morning, saying the Coalition’s argument was “pretty absurd”.
“What do you think a royal commission could do that this couldn’t do? Nothing,” he said.
“This will be an inquiry that will hear from stakeholders, that will get input, that will report within a year because a lot of the work has already been done – there have been 20 different inquiries.”
He said royal commissions could “roll on and on and on, for year after year after year”.
“What we want to do is get the information consolidated and get those recommendations about how we better prepare in the future,” he said.
Mr Albanese confirmed that Robyn Kruk – an “outstanding public health servant” – epidemiologist Catherine Bennett and economics expert Angela Jackson had been appointed to oversee the inquiry.