Former Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson has backed the federal government’s push for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
It comes less than a month after the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, suggested Australia’s support for an inquiry could deter the people of China from visiting Australia or buying Australian products. He claimed the Australian government was “teaming up” with the US government to “launch a kind of political campaign against China”.
Parkinson on Thursday told 7.30 Cheng’s comments should “come as a real wake-up call to the Australian community”.
“I do think the Chinese ambassador has done us a favour,” he said.
“He has now put front and centre before the Australian public the sorts of coercive behaviours that they are prepared to use if countries don’t fall into line.
“I think we shouldn’t be too spooked by what he said, but I do think we should listen to what he says and think carefully about how we would react as a country were such threats to turn into reality.”
Parkinson backed the government’s call for an inquiry, but questioned whether Australia should have sought support from other countries first.
“On the issue of the inquiry that it has raised, it is absolutely right that we should have an inquiry into the lessons that we need to learn as nation states and as a global community so that we are better placed to deal with the pandemics as they emerge into the future,” he said.
“The issue is really, did we do enough work to prepare for the statements that we made?
“I can’t judge that. I’m not aware of the extent to which we were trying to marshal support or the extent to which we were engaging with other countries in the region.”
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The former bureaucrat voiced his support for the government’s economic response to the pandemic, and rejected the notion that it may have over-stimulated, warning that Australia would likely be “in for a long, hard slog for a lengthy period of time”.
“The thing you have to remember when you are confronted with a recession and the sort of circumstances that we have here, is nobody has a crystal ball … it is far, far better to urge on the side of what turns out to be excessive expenditure, than to err on the side of not providing enough stimulus,” he said.
“Now I actually don’t think, at all, that the government has erred in the sense of providing too much.
“In the current situation, the real opportunities for us are to try and accelerate the digitisation of the economy, encourage greater innovation and agility in our firms and develop a really coherent and bipartisan strategy about our engagement with Asia.”