Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has joined calls for a royal commission into Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that the country should not rest on its laurels and needs to be prepared for future pandemics.
“I do hope that at the end of this process, rather than just saying, ‘Thank God that’s over,’ and just wanting to forget about it. There will be a serious inquiry, a royal commission, if you like, at the national level to look long and hard at what we did right,” the former prime minister told the Institute of Public Affairs’ (IPA) “Australia’s Heartland with Tony Abbott” podcast.
“Because there will be another pandemic. It might be in a year. It might be in a decade; it might be in a century. But there will be another pandemic and it’s important that our successes have the benefit of our considered reflections on what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong,” he said.
The comments from Abbott come after Labor Party members and Independent Senator Rex Patrick have also called for a royal commission.
“We want a bipartisan, fully fledged, fair dinkum royal commission so that all the people who have suffered during these crises can see everything out there on the table,” Labor National President and former Treasurer Wayne Swan told the Nine Network.
Abbott, meanwhile, also acknowledged the challenge Australian leaders faced in dealing with the pandemic, particularly with health advice evolving from day to day.
“There’s a sense in which they’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t,” he said. “And while as a former health minister I tended to put our medical experts on a bit of a pedestal, they’re not infallible.”
“Certainly, over the course of this whole pandemic, the “science” has shifted from day to day, and it’s been different from state to state,” he added.
“That’s why it would have been better for all of us, if there had been more transparency and if it had been published at the time. Now all of this is in a sense dirty water under the bridge, it is what it is, we are where we are.”
Senator Rex Patrick has recently won an appeal for Australia’s national cabinet to release documents underpinning its decision-making around the pandemic.
The national cabinet was formed in March 2020 and comprises the prime minister as well as the state and territory leaders. Its main aim was to coordinate the nation’s response to COVID-19.
Abbott conceded that segments of the Australian population were suffering under prolonged— and on-and-off again—lockdowns.
“It does grate sometimes when people whose own jobs are entirely secure tell people in insecure jobs that for their own good that their jobs have got to become even less secure,” he said.
“We run risks all the time. Every time we get in the car, we’re running a risk. Every time we get on our bike, we’re running a risk. Every time we go out for a surf, we’re running a risk,” he said.
“There have been many times over the last 18 months when I’ve wondered whether we have in fact got that balance right, safety first is sometimes a pretty dispiriting dictum.”