Senate Select Committee established to review government’s COVID-19 response

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday April 9, 2020

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A cross-party Senate committee has been established to scrutinise the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chaired by Labor senator Katy Gallagher, the Select Committee was approved on Wednesday.

It has seven members, including Liberal Senator James Paterson as deputy chair, Labor’s Kristina Keneally and Murray Watt and Senator Gallagher, a Greens representative, independent Senator Jacqui Lambie, and the National’s Perin Davey.

The Select Committee on COVID-19 will have broad terms of reference to allow for a thorough probe of the government’s response to the pandemic, and will present its final report on the inquiry by June 30 2022.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese and Paterson have both described parliamentary oversight as “important” during the pandemic.

Parliament is not scheduled to return until August 11. Labor and some Independents have opposed the break, but the government has assured parliament can be recalled if necessary.

The Law Council of Australia welcomed the establishment of the committee.

“Given the government’s current plans to adjourn parliament until August 2020, with limited exceptions, the ability to scrutinise decisions has been restricted,” president Pauline Wright said.

“A functioning Australian Parliament is fundamental to national values that are deeply entrenched in Australian society: those of respect for democracy and the rule of law — particularly in times of crisis.

“In these uncertain times, ensuring transparency, scrutiny and oversight of the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is paramount, if the Australian people are to maintain confidence in the parliamentary system.”

Wright has joined the call for parliament to continue throughout the pandemic, suggesting it do so through technology and other measures.

“Australians need to see democracy fully in action, not suspended, throughout this crisis,” she said.

Independents Andrew Wilkie, Helen Haines, Rebekha Sharkie, Zali Steggall, and Greens leader Adam Bandt have called for the establishment of separate economic and health committees, with members from both houses, to scrutinise COVID-19-related decisions.

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