Proposed COVID Royal Commission – great ABC radio interview from Scott Prasser

Dr Scott Prasser, Senior Fellow at the CIS, gave a great ABC radio interview this morning on the proposal from former state Premiers Peter Beattie and Jeff Kennett for a Royal Commission into Australia’s COVID response. For background, check out the Brisbane Times article ‘People have tried to minimise the errors’: Leaders call for royal commission into nation’s COVID response. You can hear Scott from around 2:15:45 on the recording of his interview which the ABC will probably remove after a week or so, so listen soon if you’re interested.

I agree with Scott that a Royal Commission wouldn’t be the right vehicle for reviewing and learning from Australia’s COVID response given:

  • a Royal Commission is most appropriate for finding out what or who is to blame for a tragedy (e.g. bushfires or a bridge collapse),
  • it’s not the best vehicle for reviewing government policy decisions because it’s overly legalistic,
  • a Royal Commission would cost tens of millions of dollars given the fees paid to judges and lawyers, and it would also take a long time.

That said, Scott does favour reviewing Australia’s COVID response, just not by a Royal Commission.

In my view, the review of Australia’s COVID response would best be handled by the Productivity Commission, given its impressive analytical grunt and well-tested ability to hold public inquiries into important national issues with both economic and social aspects. I’d hope our state governments would cooperate with a Productivity Commission inquiry, but I expect they won’t fully cooperate. It would be good to see what written advice (if any) was provided by our Chief Health and Medical Officers justifying the more extreme restrictions (e.g. Stage 4 and a curfew in Melbourne) and interstate border closures, but we probably won’t get to see that. Nonetheless, I think the Productivity Commission could do a great job assessing all the evidence and advice from medical experts outside of government, and weighing up where Australia’s COVID response was reasonable and proportionate, and where it was excessive and harsh in application (e.g. not letting people attend the funeral of a parent).

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