The federal government should set up an Australian Centre for Disease Control to improve the nation’s pandemic preparedness, an inquiry has recommended.
In April, a Senate committee was tasked with inquiring into the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While its final report is not due until June 2021, an interim report was tabled in parliament on Wednesday, making six recommendations.
“The committee recommends that the Australian government establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control to improve Australia’s pandemic preparedness, operational response capacity and communication across different levels of government,” the report said.
The committee also recommended the government permanently raise the level of the JobSeeker unemployment benefit and monitor the impact of its decision to reduce the coronavirus supplement.
As well, the government should review spending on the COVIDSafe app and publish details of meetings of the key advisory body, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
Labor chair of the inquiry Katy Gallagher told parliament the Australian people had shown remarkable “courage, patience and collective spirit”.
“But we can’t afford to be complacent,” she said.
Since the pandemic began earlier this year 28,000 Australians have contracted the virus and 908 have died.
Senator Gallagher said the inquiry had found deficiencies in the federal government’s preparation and early response to the pandemic.
Key to the response had been the state and territory governments who “forced the hand of the federal government who was resisting pressure to take stronger action”.
She outlined five areas of deficiency: the lack of a plan to protect aged care residents, the Ruby Princess cruise ship failures, “national leadership”, the COVIDSafe app and the failure to make an early decision on paid pandemic leave.
A dissenting report by coalition senators said it was disappointing the majority report included “gratuitous partisanship and point scoring”.
“Australians can be rightfully proud that our performance in this crisis is the envy of much of the world, and that we are in a tiny group of countries who have effectively limited the spread of COVID‑19 and weathered the economic storm relatively successfully,” the senators said.
They did not agree Australia was under-prepared for the pandemic, arguing the country was successfully “able to rapidly customise its response and target measures to better meet the characteristics of the virus”.
Paul Osborne in Canberra