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The first report of the Senate inquiry into the Morrison government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has found a range of deficiencies in the response and concluded the national health strategy was not clearly explained to the public until July.
The report of the Labor-chaired committee, tabled on Wednesday night, states the government “did not have adequate [public health] plans in place either before, or during the pandemic” and it “failed to properly prepare the aged care and disability sectors for the pandemic”.
It suggests the Morrison government was responsible for “significant failings in the aged care sector prior to, and during, the pandemic”. The report also notes that deaths in aged care facilities “account for 74.6% of all deaths from Covid-19 in Australia”.
“The government was unprepared; failing to anticipate crippling staff shortages and a high volume of requests for personal protective equipment,” the report states. “It failed to learn important lessons from early outbreaks at residential aged care facilities in NSW and was too slow to respond to escalating community transmission in Victoria”.
The committee report concludes the aged care regulator should have done more to keep residents safe. The Morrison government has argued the Victorian government bears responsibility for the aged care outbreak because the second wave saw high rates of community transmission that resulted in infections entering aged care facilities.
But the committee states this is blame-shifting rather than substance. “The committee is disappointed that, rather than accept its mistakes in leading the health response and keeping aged care residents safe, the government has repeatedly sought to avoid taking responsibility and shift blame onto the states”.
The committee notes Australia managed to avoid “the worst of the potential health outcomes, as at 8 December 2020 there have been over 27,987 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Australia and 908 people have died”. “More could have been done to prevent illness and this tragic loss of life,” the report states.
It says early travel restrictions imposed on four high-risk countries were not extended beyond China, Italy, Iran and Korea until 20 March “by which point case numbers had risen to over 60,000 in Europe (excluding Italy) and over 10,000 in the United States”.
The report says “throughout most of March the prime minister appeared reluctant to fully embrace social distancing measures and confused the public with messages suggesting that things could carry on as normal”.
It says the national lockdown was not led by Scott Morrison but instead by Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews, with the premiers acting because of a “lack of any clear strategy in this critical period”.
The committee makes six recommendations. It says the government should publish all previous and future minutes of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee “to provide the public with access to the medical advice behind all decisions affecting the community’s safety, livelihoods and personal freedoms”.
It recommends the government commission an independent review into expenditure on, and design of, the CovidSafe app. It says the government should establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control to improve the country’s pandemic preparedness, operational response capacity and communication across different levels of government.
The committee also recommends the government monitor the economic impact of reducing the coronavirus supplement – the effective doubling of the Newstart payment – and report back to the Senate with any data.
It further proposes the government permanently raises the rate of the jobseeker payment either at the end of year economic forecasts or in the 2021-22 budget.
The majority report also states the government should make all reports undertaken by the Covid coordination commission public “along with all declarations of actual and perceived conflicts of interest made by commissioners”.
Coalition senators on the committee issued a dissenting report. Government senators noted the select committee of inquiry “was appropriately established on a bipartisan basis when it was clear the sitting of the parliament would be disrupted and the normal oversight functions of the Senate and its committee would be limited”.
It says the committee “generally upheld the bipartisan spirit that it was founded upon”. But it concludes: “Unfortunately, this spirit has not always been reflected in the majority report.”
“While it is to be expected that different conclusions will be drawn from different philosophical perspectives and genuine disagreement is unremarkable, gratuitous partisanship and point scoring is not constructive”.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Morrison government to blame for aged care failures during pandemic – Senate report | Health