NSWCCL made a detailed submission to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 in June. We lobbied for the formation of this important Committee as a way of providing otherwise absent parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s huge response to the COVID crisis in the disturbing absence of regular parliamentary sittings.
We are pleased that the Committee, which has wide terms of reference, began its work immediately on its formation both by calling for this Inquiry and initiating public hearings – in the first month largely with Government agencies and ministers.
The chair of the Committee made some promising commitments in her opening statements for the first public hearing:
This committee is a key vehicle to provide accountability, transparency and scrutiny of the Australian government's response to the pandemic for the Australian people.
This is not your typical Senate committee. We will demand a lot of witnesses in terms of a cooperative approach that is based on working together in the national interest to ensure all aspects of our response are the best they can be. Political grandstanding will be kept to a minimum. (Senator Gallagher 23 April 2020)
There are already disturbing signs that some ministers and key agencies may not be as open in the provision of information to the Committee as is necessary if it is to fulfil its scrutiny and accountability roles.
Our submission focussed on 4 key areas:
- the fairness and inclusiveness of emergency support programs;
- the need to shape the Australian economy post-COVID towards the creation of a fairer, more just and environmentally sustainable society;
- ensuring the extraordinary powers given to ministers and agencies to restrict Australians’ normal freedoms and rights are necessary and proportionate for the protection of public health and safety, and that we have a process to ensure they will be repealed when no longer necessary;
- the enhanced imperative to put in place governance structures an to effectively scrutinise the integrity of the allocation of the vast public resources that will be expended in response to and in the aftermath of the COVID emergency.