Coalition Senators' dissenting report

Observations about the committee process

Parliamentary oversight of executive decision making is a core feature of our system of government. It is founded on the principle that decision makers will spend taxpayers' money more wisely, and consider encroachments on the rights and freedoms of their citizens more carefully, in the knowledge that they will be subject to scrutiny after the fact. Parliamentary oversight is an indispensable part of effective government.
During the COVID-19 crisis, governments spent more money and asked of citizens more sacrifices than in any time since World War II. Robust oversight is an essential component of the Australian Government's (government) response to ensure that those sacrifices have been worthwhile.
The Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 (committee) was appropriately established on bipartisan basis when it was clear the sitting of the parliament would be disrupted and the normal oversight functions of the Senate and its committee would be limited. Electing a non-government chair and a government deputy chair, and incorporating Senators from across the chamber ensured that all Australians were represented on the committee.
In the issues it pursued and the questions asked, the committee generally upheld the bipartisan spirit that it was founded upon. Genuine investigation of issues of concern to Australians has been vigorously pursued and policies of government have been properly tested. Hearings were well chaired by Senator Gallagher and were respectfully conducted. At times, the committee demonstrated its understanding of the pressures on public servants by scheduling hearings around the very significant demands on their time.
Unfortunately, this spirit has not always been reflected in the majority report. While it is to be expected that different conclusions will be drawn from different philosophical perspectives and genuine disagreement is unremarkable, gratuitous partisanship and point scoring is not constructive.
In the most serious global pandemic in a century, it would be unreasonable to expect perfection in the response by any government. A better test is how governments adapt to rapidly changing circumstances in an evolving environment. Are problems quickly identified and dealt with? When new evidence comes to light, is it swiftly incorporated and acted upon?
Unfortunately, in its criticism of the government's COVID-19 response the majority report has also cast aspersions on the tireless work of our public servants. The public service has been crucial in driving and co-ordinating the Team Australia fight against COVID-19 and making partisan reflections on them does not usefully contribute to the scrutiny work of this committee in evaluating the performance of the government.
In evaluating the effectiveness of the collective response to COVID-19 in Australia, we should be very mindful of the international experience. The best benchmark to compare Australia's health and economic response is not a theoretical alternative, but the actual experience of other similar countries grappling with the same challenges. 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 COVID19 and weathered the economic storm relatively successfully.
In this respect, government Senators differ from the majority report on a number of findings as set out below.

Preparation and initial response

Response to interim finding 2.1

Coalition Senators recognise that 2020 has been a difficult year for Australia and the world as we faced a pandemic which no country in the world anticipated and for which no country was completely prepared.
And yet Australia has had a strong and decisive approach in implementing a number of key measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and well-being of every Australian.
Thanks to the work of the Commonwealth government, the states and territories, health workers and all Australians, we are now in the position of as good a health and economic position as we could have hoped.
The government quickly expanded our health system's capacity and capability, expanded intensive care capacity, trained-up surge staff for clinical care and public health functions, significant expansion of the National Medical Stockpile and reviewed infection control practices.
The government also established new and innovative communicable disease control strategies and measures.
The National Incident Room has played a central role in Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has now been operating continuously for 13 months.
Victoria has reported 38 consecutive days of no locally acquired cases. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia have reported over 100 consecutive days of no locally acquired cases outside of quarantine.
Since the beginning of the epidemic over 10 181 500 COVID-19 tests have been conducted across Australia, and every Australian who has presented themselves for testing deserves our thanks.
The government is monitoring all vaccine candidates in clinical trials.
Australia has relied on the best scientific advice in formulating the vaccine strategy, negotiating advanced purchasing agreements with four companies to create a diverse portfolio of potential vaccines which, if approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, would result in 134 million doses available for distribution.
This will be the biggest ever vaccine rollout in history, and Australia is in an enviable position. It is too early to declare victory but there is much to celebrate.
Coalition Senators note that the Commonwealth government acted quickly as information about a novel coronavirus developed.
For example, before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic on 11 March 2020, the government had already:
made 'Human coronavirus with pandemic potential' a Listed Human Disease under the Biosecurity Act 2015 on 21 January, enabling the use of enhanced border measures should they be needed;
applied travel requirements and restrictions first to foreign nationals who were in mainland China, and subsequently to people travelling from Iran, Italy and South Korea;
activated the 'Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)'; and
established a new National Cabinet, made up of the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers to address the country's response to COVID19.
Coalition Senators note that the government has continually taken a strong and decisive approach in responding to COVID-19. This has been informed by the latest technical and scientific advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and its Standing Committees, in particular the Public Health Laboratory Network and the Communicable Diseases Network Australia.
The AHPPC, chaired by the Australian Government Chief Medical Officer, has worked to achieve consensus decisions at every stage.
The government's national strategy balanced the economic and social costs of proportionate suppression against the potential human and economic costs associated with widespread disease, such as the number of lives lost and an overwhelmed healthcare system.
Coalition Senators acknowledge that this strategy bought Australia valuable time to prepare and bolster hospital and public health capacity to manage the disease; an activity we continue. It is also estimated to have prevented at least an additional 16 313 deaths in Australia had we taken a different approach.1
The relatively low number of COVID-19 cases in Australia is the result of the swift and successful implementation of public health measures.
Australia's relative success at controlling the pandemic is a testament to our excellent, and well prepared, health system, the high-level expertise and dedicated efforts of all national health sector players including public health laboratories, surveillance systems, public health units, and academia.
The sharing of information and the translation of research into policy, for example the modelling and epidemiological analysis has been crucial to informing decisions that guide the response.
Coalition Senators note that relatively new powers under the
Biosecurity Act 2015 have been tested for the first time, including declaring a human biosecurity emergency to give the Health Minister the ability to take decisive action to prevent the entry, emergence, establishment and spread of COVID19.
Coalition Senators acknowledge that Australia can't afford to be complacent as the pandemic continues to evolve globally.
Even as effective vaccines become available and domestic and international borders reopen, Australia must remain vigilant. We must continue our efforts to closely monitor cases, quarantine contacts and to urge community adherence to physical distancing and infection prevention measures.

Response to interim finding 2.2 – part 1

Australia has an excellent health system and is rightly well prepared for such an influenza pandemic. The national health sector's preparations prior to COVID-19 included:
strong governance and expert technical and scientific advisory structures through the AHPPC and its Standing Committees the Communicable Diseases Network Australia ( 'CDNA') and the Public Health Laboratory Network, the National Health Emergency Standing Committee;
existing surveillance systems—the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System and capacity for sentinel (GPs) and syndromic (hospital emergency departments) surveillance to detect and monitor cases;
excellent public health laboratory testing capacity and capability across all states and territories, with strong collaboration through the public health laboratory network; the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza —one of five centres across the world and the National High Security Quarantine Laboratory that is a high level containment facility ready to handle, identify and characterise high risk pathogens (this laboratory was second to China in growing the COVID-19 virus) both of these laboratories funded by the Australian Government; this is complemented by the Australian Animal Health high security laboratory in Geelong (where critical work on COVID vaccines has been possible)
the National Medical Stockpile—a strategic reserve of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment;
the robust, nationally agreed and evidence-based health sector plan to guide the response to an influenza pandemic (the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza);
an Australian Government funded contract in place with Australia's only onshore vaccine manufacturer—Seqirus —to ensure Australia a rapid supply of pandemic influenza vaccine;
pandemic Influenza viruses are a Security Sensitive Biological Agent—laboratories holding the virus are regulated to minimise access to prevent bio-crime and bioterrorism, and are also Listed Human Diseases under the Biosecurity Act 2015 enabling border measures to be rapidly implemented to minimise risk of spread;
strong linkages to research and academia—we have for many years commissioned modelling and translate research into policy to strengthen the evidence base around planning, response and implementation of public health measures—grants provided by the Australian Government through Centres of Excellence of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Future Fund; and
when audited by the WHO in 2017 (Joint External Evaluation of Australia's compliance with International Health Regulations core requirements), the Australian health sector preparedness and response capacity and capability to respond to all-hazards was rated highly; the review team leader said that the scores received by Australia were as high as any country had recorded in the JEE.2
This standard of preparedness is in line with other comparable countries, with exceptional results.

Response to interim finding 2.2 – part 2

Coalition Senators do not agree that Australia was underprepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The relatively low numbers of cases in Australia is a testament to the preparedness and response planning that was in place and the excellent response capacity and capability of the national health sector and other jurisdictional and Commonwealth agency players.
Australia's focus on pandemic influenza reflects that fact that pandemic influenza is an undeniable threat that all nations have prepared for. It is the basis for all large-scale pandemic planning internationally at the WHO.
The WHO and Department of Health closely monitors the human-animal interface—the greatest risk of emergence of a novel pathogen is at this interface where for example, humans closely interact with live animals such as at the wet markets in Asia.
We have seen this risk eventuate before from the emergence of influenza H5N1 in poultry to the emergence of the 2009 influenza pandemic H1N1 that emerged in swine.
As news of the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the city of Wuhan, China between December 2019 and January 2020, the causative agent had not yet been identified and cases were then reported as a viral pneumonia.
From the symptoms and what we know about emergence of viruses at the human animal interface it was an educated assumption that the virus was likely to be an influenza virus or influenza-like virus.
Coalition Senators note that at the time this was not an unreasonable assumption and Australia was not alone in making it.
Given the assumptions that the virus was an influenza virus, pragmatically, Australia was able to utilise the existing planning and preparedness in place to launch the response to COVID-19 including the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza.
As more information became available and the virus was identified as a coronavirus, Australia was able to rapidly customise its response and target measures to better meet the characteristics of the virus. Within weeks of the identification of the SARSCoV-2 virus, Australia had launched its specific Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).3
On 11 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced a comprehensive $2.4 billion health package to protect all Australians, including vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those with chronic conditions and Indigenous communities, from COVID-19. The package provides support across primary care, aged care, hospitals, research and the national medical stockpile.4
This is why we have the 'initial action' stage in our response plans, as it is not uncommon to have to act before much is known about the disease agents—there is no time to wait as the disease will continue to spread and cause otherwise avoidable morbidity and mortality.
Once more is known about the disease agent, and its clinical severity and transmissibility, then the response progresses to the 'targeted action' stage where resources and public health interventions can be used more efficiently and effectively to minimise morbidity, mortality and burden on the health system.

Response to interim finding 2.2 – part 3

Coalition Senators acknowledge that initial response plans are based on available information, which for COVID-19 was initially limited as the first cases of the disease are reported.
Having the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza already in place meant that Australia was pre-prepared for initial response and adaptation in the face of a novel respiratory virus.
Plans are based on the best technical and scientific evidence available at the time and are 'living documents' that will be amended and updated as more information is available particularly around the clinical severity and transmissibility.
This planning cycle of continuous improvement and building on lessons learnt domestically and internationally is in line with contemporary best practice emergency response.
Even now the AHPPC reviews the public health interventions regularly in light of emerging scientific evidence to ensure Australia is directing its efforts in the most efficient and effective way to protect the health of all Australian and preserve our health system for those that need it most.
Implementing border measures has always been part of the suite of response measures considered in the response to COVID-19.
It should be noted that the WHO (and many like-minded countries) did not support border closures as part of a pandemic response. Our early, forward leaning measures in this regard are evidence of our ability to quickly respond, with governments acting on the evolving health advice.
The Biosecurity Act 2015 has been available to enable the border measures that the Commonwealth decided to implement; indeed, the use of this Act to control borders was clearly contemplated in its drafting.
In all preparedness and response planning there is serious consideration given to the groups of the Australian population that are most vulnerable, including those that will potentially suffer the most severe complications if they were to become infected with COVID-19.
At risk groups such the elderly (and those in residential aged care settings) and those Australians living with disabilities have been considered in the planning and response to COVID-19 from the outset.
Where additional or more targeted public health measures are required for specific at-risk groups additional planning is done to minimise the risk for these Australians.
As more has been learnt about the COVID-19 virus, more targeted planning has been undertaken and specific plans are available for these vulnerable groups.
Coalition Senators note that on 18 February, the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) was released, which expressly addressed the needs of vulnerable groups in Chapter 6.5 Coalition Senators reject the assertion that the government's COVID-19 response plan failed to consider these vulnerable groups.

Residential care settings

Residential care settings, such as aged and disability care, were identified early in the pandemic as high-risk environments for COVID-19. The health and wellbeing of aged and disability care residents has been considered in the deliberations of the AHPPC throughout the pandemic.
On 6 March 2020, Minister Colbeck convened an all-day sector wide planning forum to assist in the aged care sector preparedness. This involved providers, consumers, families, health unions and the Department. It led to the early implementation of surge workforce and a range of other measures.6
On 30 March 2020, the AHPPC published a statement identifying specific groups at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. The statement identified group residential settings as being at higher risk of outbreaks.7
On 13 March 2020, the CDNA published detailed national guidelines for the prevention, control and public health management of COVID-19 outbreaks in residential care facilities in Australia. The guidelines were developed in consultation with communicable diseases experts, incorporating advice from key global health agencies such as the WHO and Centres for Disease Control. The development of these guidelines was informed by the CDNA guideline National Influenza Outbreaks in Residential Care Facilities in Australia.8
These guidelines were subsequently reviewed and updated on 30 April 2020 and 14 July 2020 to reflect emerging evidence and improved understanding of COVID-19.
Other matters relating to the government's actions on aged care are dealt with later in this report.

Disability sector

Coalition Senators note that Australians living with disability are generally at greater risk of more serious illness if infected by COVID-19. This can be due to a high prevalence of comorbidities including chronic conditions or a weakened immune system.
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) rapidly implemented a range of temporary measures to support National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants, such as providing low-cost assistive technology, including smart devices, so participants could access telehealth services; the ability to claim for the cost of PPE; and greater plan flexibility.

Timeline of COVID-19 support for people with a disability in 2020:

5 March
Minister Robert wrote to NDIA and Services Australia to request planning for COVID response. That same day, a Disability COVID taskforce was set up in the NDIA.
11 March
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces a comprehensive
$2.4 billion health package to protect all Australians, including vulnerable groups and people with a disability, from
13 March
Residential aged care facilities guidelines were released. This supports young people living in residential aged care facilities.
13 March
The Commonwealth implements a dedicated MBS item for pathology tests for COVID-19. This is to ensure access to rapid COVID testing. MBS funded pathology tests for COVID-19 can be requested by all medical practitioners and must be bulk billed, that is provided at no cost to the patient.
16 March
Minister Ruston and the Department of Social Services held a round table with about 10 Disability Representative Organisations (DROs) to discuss responses to COVID-19.
16 March
Online COVID-19 infection prevention and control training for care workers, including disability care workers, went live.
18 March
Extraordinary meeting of DRC (Disability Ministers) to discuss COVID 19 response (they also met on 9 April 2020, 11 May 2020 and 24 July 2020). Health officials attended this meeting to outline current guidance and access to infection prevention control training and the National Medical Stockpile.
19 March
Minister Ruston held a Carer Gateway Service Providers COVID-19 Update with the CEOs from 10 peak organisations.
29 March
Commonwealth announces a range of mental health supports to help Australians through COVID including:
$14 million to bolster the capacity of digital and telephone mental health services to provide additional support to vulnerable populations including people with complex mental health needs; and
$28.4 million to allow an additional year for people with a psychosocial disability to transition to the NDIS.
30 March
Minister Ruston held a COVID-19 roundtable with about a dozen Australian Disability Enterprises.
31 March
Minister Ruston met with Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett.
2 April
The Advisory Committee on the Health Emergency Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) for People with Disability was established.
3 April
Ministers Hunt, Robert and Ruston announced that the Australian Government would urgently develop a response plan to focus on people with disability during coronavirus.
5 April
NDIS participants to receive priority home delivery from some of Australia's leading supermarkets.
9 April
$90.7 million announced to support people with disability as part of a broader community support package, including the establishment of a dedicated phone line for people with disability.
16 April
National Cabinet agreed to release the COVID-19 Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability.
17 April
The Australian Government's Management and Operational Plan for COVID-19 for People with Disability was released
23 April
Announced changes to student visa work conditions to ensure continuity of health workforce, including in the disability sector.
27 April
New support items available for SIL providers where an NDIS participant is diagnosed with COVID-19, flexibility to purchase of low cost AT and downloadable access request forms to ensure eligible Australians can continue to apply for access to the NDIS.
1 May
Minister Ruston and the Department of Social Services held a round table with about 10 Disability Representative Organisations (DROs) to discuss responses to COVID-19.
11 May
Disability Ministers Meetings (all State and Territory ministers) to coordinate COVID response.
15 May
National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan announced with specific funding to support vulnerable groups including mental health and wellbeing of carers.
12 June
The NDIS moved to a post-pandemic phase from 1 July 2020, including the conclusion of some temporary measures
17 July
Minister Hunt announces 1 million masks from National Medical Stockpile for disability care workers in Victoria.
29 July
Allowing participants and providers in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria to claim the cost of PPE and access additional cleaning supports.
11 August
Proactive outreach to NDIS providers, measures to ensure workforce supply and mechanism for a clinical first response for cases or outbreaks amongst providers and/or residential care settings.
19 August
Daily publication of data on COVID-19 infection rates for NDIS participants and workers commenced.
21 August
NDIS providers in Victoria and NSW can directly claim the costs of PPE from the NDIA through an hourly allowance. The Victorian Government announced the establishment of the Disability Response Centre to coordinate and manage outbreaks and keep residents safe.
22 August
Participant and provider access to PPE extended to restricted areas of Queensland.
4 September
Australian and Victorian Government provide $15 million Mobility Reduction Payment for NDIS providers to reduce the movement of support workers between residential disability facilities.
8 September
The third iteration of the Disability Operational and Management Plan was endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. A substantial number of actions have been implemented under the Plan, including:
publishing the Coronavirus: Outbreak preparedness, prevention and management guidelines for NDIS providers;
producing COVID-19 infection control training for care workers across all health care settings, including disability;
publishing guidance materials on testing, returning to school and individual COVID 19 health plans as well as guidance for in-home providers, health professionals, carers and support workers; and
establishing the COVID-19 Health Professionals Disability Advisory Service helpline.
2 October
Minister Robert announced extension of temporary COVID measures until 28 February 2021.
30 November
As at 30 November, the Department of Health, through the NMS, has dispatched approximately 600 000 masks, 40 000 gloves, 10 000 gowns, 45 000 goggles and face shields to the NDIA and to individual NDIS participants.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, 'Disability Royal Commission Public Hearing COVID-19 Hearing Report, Media Release, 30 November 2020,

Response to interim finding 2.3

Coalition Senators acknowledge that the Department of Health made decisions over several years to ensure that Australia has a balanced and diversified NMS, in consultation with the states and territories.
The arrangements in place to administer the NMS were, and have always been, prepared to play a crucial role in responding to a national health emergency.
Australia has not at any time during this pandemic been in a position where clinically recommended PPE has not been supplied to a health worker. This cannot be said for a number of other high-income countries.
Coalition Senators highlight that more than half a billion masks were secured by the Department of Health to ensure continued supply over the coming months.9
Masks dispatched from the National Medical Stockpile includes:
more than 50 million masks to State and Territory health departments to support the acute care sector;10
more than 19 million masks to aged care through both states and territories for distribution and directly for urgent dispatches to facilities;11 and
almost 600 000 masks to the NDIA and direct to National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants.12
More than 28 million masks have been dispatched to Victoria from the National Medical Stockpile.
The National Medical Stockpile has supplied over 17 million to aged care facilities in Victoria.13
Modelling for both baseline and high-case scenarios shows the National Medical Stockpile has sufficient stock of masks to meet anticipated demand from its priority distribution groups.

Response to interim finding 2.4

Coalition Senators note that the Commonwealth government acted swiftly to establish international border controls, including making the difficult decision to implement travel restrictions on international movements. This, combined with mandatory quarantine, has allowed for the isolation and management of imported cases to prevent local outbreaks.
On 21 January 2020, 'human coronavirus with pandemic potential' was listed as a Listed Human Disease under the Biosecurity Act 2015, enabling the use of enhanced border measures. Coalition Senators note that this was ahead of the WHO declaring the novel coronavirus outbreak a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern' on 30 January 2020.
It is important to note that the intention for restrictions on international travel is not to eliminate the appearance of any new cases of COVID-19. Instead, it helps to lower the number of new cases to levels that can be effectively managed by our health system.
Prior to the implementation of mandatory hotel quarantine, starting 1 February 2020, international travellers were required to self-isolate in their homes which was scaled up as more countries were identified, through to the implementations of mandatory hotel quarantine on 28 March.
Compliance with home quarantine and the implementation of hotel quarantine was an agreed responsibility of the states and territories. This has never been in dispute and reflects the availability of public health and other resources on the ground in the states and territories.
Coalition Senators note it was very clear that the state and territory governments had the statutory authority for compliance checks of returning travellers undertaking self-isolation at home.
For example, the Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton's State of Emergency directions, signed on 16 March 2020, specifically set out the self-isolation requirements for overseas travellers returning home in Victoria and the applicable penalties for non-compliance.14
Similarly, the NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard MP noted on 16 March 2020 that the NSW Chief Health Officer may issue an order to forcibly require compliance with the self-isolation requirements of Australians returning home from overseas.15

Timeline of changes in international travel restrictions and travel advice

19 January
The then Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy announced the Department of Health was aware of the cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the Wuhan region in China and was watching developments closely. It was noted that any ill passengers reported on incoming flights would be met on arrival and assessed by biosecurity officers.16
21 January
The NSW Government began enhanced screening measures for passengers arriving at Sydney Airport on direct flights from Wuhan. Flights were met by Australian Border Force ( 'ABF') officers and biosecurity officers from NSW Health. Passengers were given information and asked to identify themselves if they have symptoms such as a fever, with NSW Health officials to follow-up with passengers suspected of having the virus.17
23 January
The Prime Minister announced the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ( 'DFAT') raised the level of travel advice for Wuhan to level 3: 'reconsider the need to travel'.18 The following day, DFAT raised the level of travel advice for Wuhan and Hubei Province to level 4: 'do not travel'.19
26 January
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Australia. The level of travel advice for China overall was raised to level 3: 'reconsider your need to travel'. Human coronavirus with pandemic potential would now be a Listed Human Disease under the Biosecurity Act 2015, enabling the use of enhanced border measures. The CMO convened a national teleconference of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee ( 'AHPPC') to inform state and territory authorities and to coordinate further national action.20
29 January
The AHPPC adopted a highly precautionary approach and made the following recommendations which were accepted by the government:
people who have been in contact with any confirmed novel coronavirus cases must be isolated in their home for 14 days following exposure; and
returned travellers who have been in the Hubei Province of China must be isolated in their home for 14 days after leaving Hubei Province, other than for seeking individual medical care (including school children).21
31 January
The Health Minister stated that border screening and health measures are in place and that daily meetings were occurring between all federal, state and territory chief medical officers to assess the latest evidence and consider further action.22 Dr Murphy noted that the World Health Organization strongly recommended that countries do not ban flights from China at that point in time.23
1 February
The Commonwealth announced that effective immediately, foreign nationals (excluding permanent residents) who are in mainland China from 1 February will not be allowed to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they have left or transited through mainland China. Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members who have been in mainland China may still enter but will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.24 DFAT raises the level of travel advice for China to level 4: 'do not travel'.
20 February
The travel ban from China was extended to 29 February. People who have been in contact with someone confirmed to have coronavirus must also self-isolate for 14 days from the time they were in contact with that person. The Prime Minister notes that the Commonwealth will continue to consider developments in China and advice from the AHPPC as they meet and review health and travel arrangements on an ongoing basis.25
24 February
Travel advice for Japan and South Korea was raised to level 2: 'exercise a high degree of caution'.26
26 February
Travel advice is lifted to 'level 2: exercise a high degree of caution', for northern Italy and additional advice is put in place for travel to Iran.27
29 February
The travel advice for all of Italy was raised to 'level 2: exercise a high degree of caution', and 'level 3: reconsider your need to travel' for specified regions in Italy. Foreign nationals (excluding Australian permanent residents) who were in Iran from 1 March would not be allowed to enter Australia for 14 days. The Travel advice for Iran raised to 'level 4—do not travel'. The travel restrictions to Iran were based on advice from the AHPPC that the COVID_19 outbreak in Iran may be one of the largest outbreaks outside of Hubei Province in China.28
5 March
Foreign nationals (excluding Australian permanent residents) who are in South Korea will not be allowed to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they have left or transited through the Republic of Korea. Travel advice for the Republic of Korea raised to 'level 3—reconsider your need to travel' and 'level 4—do not travel' for Daegu because of the significant outbreak of COVID-19 in that location.29
11 March
Travel advice and bans were extended to Italy. Australians and permanent residents exempt from those travel bans would be subject to the 14-day isolation period.30
13 March
The travel advice for all Australians travelling overseas was raised to level 3: 'reconsider you need for overseas travel at this time'. The Prime Minister and Dr Murphy noted that the reason for this travel advice is that the health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic were increasing and overseas travel has become more complex and unpredictable.31
15 March
The National Cabinet had its first meeting. The Prime Minister announced a universal precautionary self-isolation requirement of 14 days on all international arrivals to Australia to come into effect from midnight.32
19 March
Australia has closed its borders to all non-citizens and non-residents. The entry ban took effect from 9.00 pm on 20 March. Only Australian citizens, residents and immediate family members can travel to Australia, with limited exemptions applying.33
24 March
The Commonwealth implemented a 'do not travel' ban on Australians travelling overseas under the Biosecurity Act 2015 in order to avoid travellers returning to Australia with coronavirus and contracting coronavirus while overseas. Exemptions would be managed by the ABF.34
27 March
The National Cabinet agreed that all travellers arriving in Australia will be required to undertake their mandatory 14-day self-isolation at designated facilities. The hotel quarantine system will be implemented under state and territory legislation and enforced by state and territory governments, with the support of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and ABF where necessary.35

Response to interim finding 2.5

Current jurisdictional arrangements to bring Australians home

Coalition Senators further note that on 13 November 2020, the National Cabinet agreed to continue to prioritise the return of Australians.
Since the onset of the pandemic over 414 000 Australians have returned home on commercial flights and 69 flights were facilitated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).36
Since 18 September 2020, around 10,900 Australians registered with DFAT have returned to Australia. However, since 18 September 2020 the list of registered Australians has grown from 26 200 to 35 637. Between now and Christmas an additional 27 000 Australians are expected to return home.37
The National Cabinet agreed that international air passenger caps have played an important role in ensuring that each of the states and territories' quarantine system can protect Australians at home.
The Commonwealth will be extending the international air passenger caps until 31 January 2021 for Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide, with further increases to be made if and when additional quarantine places become available.
Caps and other arrangements will be implemented on a weekly basis and, in consultation with the relevant jurisdiction, an over-allocation by up to 10 per cent above caps will be allowed.
The current jurisdictional arrangements as of 13 November 2020 are as follows
360 passengers over two flights before Christmas
Weekly cap of 3000 passengers into Sydney
Finalising arrangements with the Commonwealth to increase capacity at Howard Springs Quarantine Facility from the current 500 per fortnight
Weekly cap of 1000 passengers into Brisbane and increased surge efforts to 300 vulnerable Australians per week
450 Australians over three flights before Christmas
Weekly cap of 1025 passengers into Perth
Cap of 160 passengers arriving each day
The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister, 'National Cabinet’, Media Release, 13 November 2020,; The Hon Daniel Andrews MP, Premier of Victoria, 'A Stronger Quarantine Program to Protect What We’ve Built’, 30 November 2020,

Safely increasing quarantine caps can facilitate bringing more Australians home to their families

Coalition Senators note that to safely facilitate the return of Australians travelling abroad, the risk of COVID-19 being reintroduced into Australia must be vigilantly mitigated through the continued implementation of an effective quarantine system that prioritises the health of returning Australians and protects the general community.
These health obligations by their nature unfortunately constrain the volume of Australians being able to return home at any one point in time. It should not be lost on anyone how critical this task is and how devastating the consequences are if there are failures in the quarantining of return travellers, as the experience in Victoria has shown.
Evidence presented to the committee by Dr Murphy in April 2020 outlined the importance of our border control measures to our success in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic:
Border controls, including the most recent and most restrictive border measure, which is to formally quarantine in hotels every returned traveller, have been quite challenging for government, but I think they have been one of the biggest reasons for our success.38
Notwithstanding the failures of hotel quarantine in Victoria, we can still be proud of the fact that Australia has largely avoided the worst impacts of the virus compared to that seen internationally, and our success to date must continue to be jealously guarded.
An effective hotel quarantine system which facilitates the safe return of Australians from abroad requires significant public health resources, which is predominantly within the purview of the states and territories.39 The practical administration of quarantine is a coordinated effort between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments via the National Cabinet process.
Coalition Senators reiterate that from the beginning of mandatory hotel quarantine, the Commonwealth has consistently offered to provide Australian Defence Force (ADF) support to assist the state and territory enforcement authorities manage the logistical requirements at hotel quarantine facilities.40
The hotel quarantine failures in Victoria has for several months constrained the capacity of Australians to be able to return home than there otherwise could have been. On the question of the impact of the shutdown of Melbourne Airport on the ability of Australians to return home, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet gave this evidence to this committee:
… it has had a very significant impact because, prior to the closure of Melbourne Airport, it was taking approximately 26 per cent of international arrivals. So the impact has been commensurate with the proportion that they were taking prior to having to go offline.41
It was further submitted to the committee that the shutdown of Melbourne Airport had in fact triggered the caps being put in place by the other states and territories, and that from the beginning of hotel quarantine there were no caps on arrivals in place and it was being managed by the states and territories.42
Coalition Senators are of the view that the state and territory governments bear responsibility for the caps that their jurisdictions have put in place to manage the intake of Australians returning home. The states and territories should continue to positively engage with the National Cabinet and consider increasing those caps so that more Australians can return home to their families safely—with the advice of the medical experts always in mind.
Coalition Senators note that the reopening of Melbourne Airport to international travellers on 7 December 2020 is a welcome development that will facilitate the safe return of more Australians.43
Moreover, Coalition Senators highlight that evidence to the committee has demonstrated domestic border closures are a significant restraint on the capacity of hotel quarantine facilities. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications gave evidence to this committee that it had been advised by various states that, as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks, hotel quarantine facilities were being used to enforce domestic border closure requirements.44 Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly submitted to the committee:
There has been an effect from the domestic border closures in that way. Some states have needed to decrease the number of people they have been receiving from overseas because there are others in hotel quarantine.45
The AHPPC has never advised the National Cabinet that states and territories close their borders, and yet throughout the pandemic some states have closed their borders to other states to varying degrees including in circumstances where there was no community transmission. On 20 May 2020, the then deputy chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly acknowledged that he saw no medical reason why state borders were still closed.46
As a result of domestic travellers being required to take up the limited space in hotel quarantine facilities there has been a direct impact restricting how many Australians can return home overseas.
Additional evidence was given to the committee that, in recent times, the availability of commercial flights to bring passengers home has not been a causative factor that restricts how many Australians can return home. Rather, it is the public health capability to maintain an effective hotel quarantine system that constrains the capacity of quarantine facilities.47

Response to interim finding 2.6

As Mr Bret Walker SC's Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess's Final Report stated:
Given its lack of medical or epidemiological expertise, it is well for the public good that the ABF (and, for that matter, the Department of Home Affairs) do not bear any responsibility for the Ruby Princess mishap … To repeat, neither the ABF nor any ABF officers played any part in the mishap.48
The suggestion that there has been wrongdoing by the Australian Border Force is completely wrong.
The ABF does not have a role in relation to clearing people on health grounds. The ABF does not employ doctors and nurses at airports or at seaports. The ABF, who have gone above and beyond in this response, have worked day and night to keep Australians safe.

Health Response Part 1: Managing COVID-19 in Australia

Response to interim finding 3.1 – part 1

Coalition Senators dispute the finding that the Commonwealth's overarching strategy was not explained clearly until late July.
The national COVID-19 communication activities began in early 2020. The campaign ran across all media channels and included topics on COVID-19 symptoms, physical distancing, respiratory and hand hygiene, testing and self-isolation requirements, support for older Australians, movement and other restrictions, mental health support and the COVIDSafe app.49
This campaign was supplemented by almost daily media conferences, from late January, featuring the Health Minister, CMO and Deputy CMOs. Daily updates were provided, and the strategy clearly outlined. Ministers and the CMO and Deputy CMOs have appeared regularly in a wide array of social media to further provide updates and respond to questions.
The Prime Minister announced the suppression strategy in a press conference on 16 April 2020.50
On 6 May 2020, the Pandemic Health Intelligence Plan (PHIP) was published on the Department of Health website.51 The PHIP states that on 16 April 2020, the National Cabinet agreed that the national strategy would continue to be one of suppression, with potential to eliminate the virus in some areas of the country.
Coalition Senators note the National Cabinet has endorsed a national strategy of suppression, with a goal of 'no community transmission'.
The suppression strategy enables balance between adequately controlling virus transmission, and minimising economic, social and other health disruption.
A goal of 'no community transmission' enables localised and proportionate actions whilst maintaining the recognition of ongoing risk.
When cases do emerge, swift public health action is required to identify, contain and end transmission chains. Australia has built its public health capacity throughout the pandemic to better achieve this.

Response to interim finding 3.1 – part 2

On 20 January 2020, the National Incident Room was activated in response to the threat of COVID-19.
Coalition Senators note that Australia's response to COVID-19 has been guided by the expertise of the CDNA and the AHPPC, of which public health and communicable disease experts, and the Chief Health Officer of each state and territory are members, respectively. These committees met more frequently to respond strongly to the worsening epidemiological situation, enabling strong decision making.
With the greatest risk of COVID-19 being importation from overseas, the Commonwealth acted decisively to close international borders and introduce quarantine measures.
On the advice of CDNA and AHPPC, throughout March and April 2020, Australia implemented a series of public health measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures were broadly aimed at:
reducing introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in the community;
protecting vulnerable population groups including older Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities; and
building and safeguarding Australia's health system capacity.
Social distancing, gathering restrictions, and the message to 'stay home unless doing essential activities' were all recommended during March 2020 by the AHPPC.
This proportionate range of measures were a collective decision of the National Cabinet, informed by the health advice, which was being updated daily at AHPPC. All state and territory first ministers were part of and endorsed the national response.
State and territory governments have primary operational responsibility for emergency management and public health in their respective jurisdictions, which is based on the medical advice from their respective Chief Health Officers.
Domestic border issues, and public health interventions within states and territories are a jurisdictional matter and are at the discretion of the individual jurisdiction.

Response to interim finding 3.2

The COVIDSafe app is working and is being used by state health officials as part of contact tracing. It is an additional tool that helps supplement the contact tracing process and helps keep people safe through early notification by health officials of possible exposure.
Over 7.1 million Australians have downloaded and registered on the app, as of 30 November 2020.52
NSW has reported that it has successfully accessed the App to identify around 80 close contacts, including 17 contacts not identified by manual contact tracing.
In one instance, their access to App data revealed a previously unrecognised exposure date at a venue in NSW, resulting in the identification of an additional 544 contacts that may have otherwise gone undetected (including two people who were confirmed to have COVID-19).
The Government welcomes the fact that our caseload has been so low in most jurisdictions the app has not had to be used.
Unfortunately, evidence to the committee revealed that the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services had informed the Commonwealth that they had paused using COVIDSafe App data on 16 July 2020 citing concerns over privacy legislation. The Victorian Government did not recommence using the COVIDSafe App Data until 1 August 2020. This exact period was during the height of the second wave in Victoria.53
Ongoing improvements are made to the app through regular updates on the app stores. On 30 November 2020, the Minister for Government Services announced a significant update is in progress to improve Bluetooth performance through a new Bluetooth protocol called Herald. Testing shows the protocol provides for excellent performance of all encounter logging under all phone conditions and will continue to work on more than 96 per cent of Apple and Android phones.54
The code for the update has been made available to the public via Github to enable the tech community an opportunity to provide feedback ahead of the release to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
The Government continues to support and encourage state and territory governments to use the app to supplement their contact tracing process.

Response to interim finding 3.3

Coalition Senators note that a safe and effective vaccine developed by the medical experts and approved by our regulatory bodies will be a significant step for Australia and the world at large in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. It should be welcomed that the Commonwealth engaged early and proactively to secure access for Australians to promising vaccine candidates.
Coalition Senators note that on 18 February, the government announced $2 million in funding to support Australia's researchers to understand and respond to the outbreak of COVID-19. The Commonwealth provided funding from the Medical Research Future Fund for an open and competitive grant opportunity to develop a coronavirus vaccine.55
As part of the Commonwealth government's $2.4 billion health package to address COVID-19, $30 million from the Medical Research Future Fund was allocated for vaccine, anti-viral and respiratory medicine research.56
Coalition Senators note that the government currently has five separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and that through these five agreements the government has invested $3.3 billion, which will strengthen Australia's position to access safe and effective vaccines when they become available.57
Coalition Senators also note that the government has invested $363 million in support of research and development, to contribute to the global effort to find successful vaccines and treatments to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Coalition Senators note that all vaccines must pass different stages of research trials to prove they are safe and effective to be approved for use by our regulatory bodies, and as such the government's five agreements cover a range of different vaccine candidates.
The government's five vaccine agreements cover the following.58
The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, with 3.8 million doses set to be delivered to Australia in early 2021, and 30 million doses manufactured in Australia between early 2021 in monthly batches through to September 2021. CSL will manufacture these doses on behalf of AstraZeneca.
The University of Queensland/CSL vaccine, with 51 million doses being available from mid-2021. These doses will be manufactured in Australia by CSL.
The Novavax vaccine, with 40 million doses to be made available in Australia during 2021, and Australia having the option to purchase an extra 10 million doses.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with 10 million doses being available from early 2021 with Australia having the option to purchase additional doses where supply is available. These doses will be manufactured offshore.
Australian participation in the COVAX Facility—a global effort to support rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines—which will enable Australia to purchase doses for Australia as they become available. This participation includes an upfront payment of $132 million to allow the purchase of 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the Australian population, and an additional $80 million to support vaccine access for up to 94 lower-income countries through the Facility's Advanced Market Commitment.

Health Response Part 2: Aged Care

Response to interim finding 4.1

Coalition Senators note that the Commonwealth Government regulates and funds the care of older Australian in the home and in residential care facilities.
States are responsible for the management of public health, hospitals, and pandemics.
The Commonwealth government continues to work with states and territories to protect our most vulnerable senior Australians in aged care.
Coalition Senators note the Commonwealth has provided more than $1.6 billion to assist senior Australians in aged care during the COVID-19 Pandemic.59 This includes boosting quality and safety monitoring, support for retaining the care workforce, providing an additional surge workforce, assistance to the sector with additional costs and providing unlimited resources to COVID impacted facilities, funding to support older Australians stay at home and funding for a Victorian Aged Care response centre.

Response to interim finding 4.2

Long term Challenges

One of the Prime Minister's first decisions was to establish the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on 8 October 2018.60
When the pandemic hit, the Prime Minister wrote to Commissioners (on 31 March 2020 and asked them to take into account the COVID-19 pandemic in the conduct of their inquiry.
In particular, the Prime Minister asked that Commissioners give consideration to the effect of the pandemic when seeking information from governments or people who are at the front line of the fight against the pandemic in order to ensure that they could do their work without distraction.
Coalition Senators note that on 25 July, the Commonwealth had established the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre.61 A key focus of the Centre is to unify the effort across every aspect of the aged care sector during the pandemic. The Centre has staff from Commonwealth and Victorian government agencies, working together to manage the impact of the COVID19 pandemic in aged care facilities.

Aged Care Plan

Coalition Senators note the Commonwealth has been continuously building on our response to COVID-19 in residential aged care since January 2020, in consultation with the aged care sector and with the state and territory government's health authorities. This has included:
specific infection control guidance for residential aged care combined with freely available training for the aged care workforce;
visitation restrictions combined with guidance to enable residents to remain safely connected to their family and community;
rapid provision of PPE, clinical expertise, and additional skilled workforce to support the provision of care and contain transmission in the event of an outbreak;
in-reach pathology testing for COVID-19 and access to telehealth to ensure residents continue to safely receive needed healthcare.
The Government issued specific guidelines to the sector on 13 March from the Communicable Disease Network of Australia and it was updated twice, including on 14 July.62 The Commonwealth's plan was in place since January.
On 21 August, the National Cabinet endorsed the Commonwealth, State and Territory Plan to Boost Aged Care Preparedness for a Rapid Emergency Response to COVID-19.63 This plan sought to strengthen preparedness for responding to a rapid escalation of COVID-19 in the aged care sector.
The plan has been developed in consultation with jurisdictions and comprises a high-level series of actions for Commonwealth, state and territory governments to strengthen aged care emergency response preparedness.
Actions included, but are not limited to:
Ongoing assessment of the preparedness of aged care providers to respond to outbreaks of COVID-19, including a risk profiling tool developed by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to inform emergency response planning.
An Audit of State and Territory Emergency Response Capabilities to support the establishment of a joint aged care emergency response.
Additional face to face infection control training.

Aged care workforce

Coalition Senators note that aged and health sector workforce numbers have been impacted by community transmission of COVID-19, and notes the Commonwealth has invested $101 million for a surge workforce and infection control training for aged care workers.64
To assist the sector the Commonwealth has activated a surge workforce, ADF, AUSMAT and is delivering masks and face shields to aged care facilities.


Coalition Senators note that the Commonwealth has been working with the states and territories to ensure that aged care facilities have sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment. As of 1 October 2020, the National Medical Stockpile has provided aged care facilities with approximately:
17 million masks
4 million gowns
11 million gloves
4 million goggles and face shields
85 000 bottles of hand sanitiser
160 000 clinical waste bags.65

Response to interim finding 4.3

Coalition Senators note that the Commonwealth has worked with all state and territory governments on COVID-19 outbreak management plans specific to residential aged care facilities which have been enacted as required.
Coalition Senators note the Commonwealth government's commitment to the reform of the aged care sector to ensure the future workforce for the sector is fit for purpose. As the direct employers of the workforce, the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council and industry are intended to drive the bulk of these reforms.
The Commonwealth government has provided significant funding support to the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council in this. Up to 30 June 2020, the Commonwealth government has provided $2.6 million in funding to support the work of the Council,66 and $10.3 million has been allocated in Budget 202021 to support the Workforce Industry Council reforms.67

Response to interim finding 4.4

Coalition Senators note the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre is a joint operation of the Victorian and Commonwealth governments established on 25 July 2020.68
The Response Centre will be led by an executive team including clinical and operational leads, enabling a rapid response as required. It will include staff from Department of Health, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, DHHS, Emergency Management Australia, Emergency Management Victoria, Australian Medical Assistance Teams ( 'AUSMAT') and Defence. The Response Centre will support Victorian residential aged care facilities in improving infection prevention and control approaches and understanding PPE requirements.69
A key focus of the Response Centre is to unify the effort across every aspect of the aged care sector during the pandemic.
Widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria meant that we needed a centralised, co-ordinated approach to protect and care for all people living in aged care facilities and care for aged care residents who have tested positive to COVID-19.
The Response Centre will also support our aged care workforce with the knowledge, skills and experience to protect themselves while they care for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
Coalition Senators note that Commonwealth government has accepted all six recommendations of the Royal Commission Special COVID report and on 30 November 2020 it reported to parliament on the implementation of these recommendations.70

Response to interim findings 4.5

The work of the strengthened independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) remains key to important reform of the sector. Coalition Senators note that the ACQSC has significantly increase site visits to aged care services throughout 2020.
As of 1 September 2020, the ACQSC conducted more than 1,100 site visits to aged care services since January including 410 visits to check infection control practices, and the ACQSC modified its regulatory program in March 2020 to focus additional effort where it is needed most to ensure providers are keeping aged care consumers safe.71
Between 16 March and 14 August 2020, a total of 487 unannounced and short-notice visits were undertaken to aged care services across all stated. Unannounced visits were changed to short notice visits for 11 weeks from 16 March but recommenced in June 2020.
The regulator continues to use the full range of its regulatory activities to ensure the safety and well-being of aged care consumers.
Commissioner Janet Anderson PSM has communicated to aged care providers her expectation that they will continue to minimise the risks and impact of a potential COVID-19 outbreak in their aged care service.
Coalition Senators note that on 2 December 2020, the ACQSC released a new comprehensive guide for use by residential aged care providers in supporting their workers, care recipients and family members, and visitors to prevent, prepare for and manage an outbreak of COVID-19.72
Coalition Senators welcome the comments by Commissioner Anderson that the aged care sector cannot afford to be complacent and must do all that it can to prepare for future outbreaks of COVID-19, even as Australians transition to a COVID-normal.

Economic Response to COVID-19 Part 1: The immediate economic impact and response

Response to interim finding 5.1

Coalition Senators reject the assertion that there was a delay in the government's adoption of measures to lessen the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $130 billion JobKeeper payment was announced on the 30 March 2020.73 This was less than a month after the COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic by the WHO (on 11 March 2020), and only two weeks after the first domestic restrictions on gatherings were announced on 16 March 2020.74
Coalition Senators also note that the advice from Treasury—as stated publicly by Secretary Kennedy—was to put in place the expanded coronavirus supplement. The government acted in line with this advice by announcing the coronavirus supplement on 22 March 2020.75
As Secretary Kennedy also noted, this gave the government time to properly design the JobKeeper scheme, which was a unique Australian response that lacked the flaws of other schemes, such as the UK-style scheme supported by the Australian Labor Party.76

Response to interim finding 5.2

Coalition Senators reject the assertion that JobKeeper unnecessarily excluded Australian workers.
The JobKeeper Payment was designed to apply consistently across a range of business sizes, structures, and industries, and to target support to those entities who had been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was also designed to deliver support quickly and at scale, which is why eligibility criteria needed to be as simple as possible and draw on existing tax and revenue concepts and definitions.
This is reflected in the short time between the announcement of the scheme and payments being received by Australian employers.
The JobKeeper Payment was announced on 30 March 2020, legislation to implement the scheme was introduced and passed by the Parliament on 8 April 2020, and the first payments by the ATO to employers were made from the first week of May 2020.
Coalition Senators note the success of the JobKeeper scheme, with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) estimating that JobKeeper reduced total job losses by 700 000 between April and July 2020.77
Coalition Senators also acknowledge the appropriateness of the government's decision to extend JobKeeper for a further 6 months, until 28 March 2021. The extension will target support to those businesses that continue to be most significantly impacted by the economic effects of COVID‑19.

Response to interim finding 5.3:

Coalition Senators reject the claims that the JobSeeker payment is inadequate and that the government is withdrawing fiscal support too early.
Coalition Senators note that the government introduced the JobSeeker Payment in March 2020, to simplify the income support system and maintain incentives for people to find employment and support themselves to the greatest extent possible.
This was a critical step in simplifying and modernising Australia's welfare system. Offering a single payment for working-age people, a single set of rules and a single set of rates will be simpler and easier for people to access.
JobSeeker is a safety net for people while they are looking for, or unable to work. It is not designed to be long-term income on an ongoing basis.
Everyone who receives the new JobSeeker Payment is eligible for some form of additional assistance from the welfare system.
It is the responsibility of the government to ensure our social security and welfare system is sustainable into the future, so that it can continue to provide support to those most in need.
The Coronavirus Supplement is a temporary measure introduced to ensure assistance is provided to people in need at this time of crisis. Coalition Senators note that the Commonwealth relaxed a number of criteria to ensure that those who find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own can still access JobSeeker, such as relaxing the partner income threshold to $3,070 per fortnight.78
The emergency income support measures the Commonwealth government put in place at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic were always targeted, temporary and scalable.
Decisions around welfare have to balance a range of considerations—including providing a safety net, incentivising work, and being fiscally sustainable.
Providing additional financial support through social security is just one of the ways the Australian Government is helping support individuals, communities, and the economy through these testing times.

Response to interim finding 5.4

Coalition Senators note the government's policies are carefully examined on their merit for society as a whole and that the government consult with a range of agencies and stakeholders.
One of our greatest concerns at the outset of the pandemic was shutting down communities and keeping people in homes where we know home is not always the safe place it should be. That is why, very early in the pandemic, the Commonwealth government committed $150 million for the COVID‑19 Domestic and Family Violence Support Package.79
$130 million of that support package was allocated to state and territory governments to help support crisis accommodation, frontline services and perpetrator intervention programs. All States have now received the full allocation of funding.
Coalition Senators recognise that women made up the majority of Australians who lost their jobs early in this crisis. These jobs have started to come back, with more than half of jobs created since May filled by women.
Coalition Senators note the government is determined to see female workforce participation reach its pre-COVID-19 record high again (61.5 per cent January 2020), and to see the gender pay gap reach its record low again (13.9 per cent November 2019).
As part of the Budget, the government announced the second Women's Economic Security Statement which includes $240 million in measures and programs, such as:
new cadetships and apprenticeships for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics;
support for female founders and entrepreneurialism; and
a new Respect@Work Council to support women's safety.80

Response to interim finding 5.5

Coalition Senators reject the suggestion that the government left Australians to fend for themselves for six months.
Coalition Senators note that the $130 billion JobKeeper payment was announced on the 30 March 2020.81 This was less than a month after the COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic by the WHO (on 11 March 2020), and only two weeks after the first domestic restrictions on gatherings were announced on 16 March 2020.82
Coalition Senators also note that by 22 March 2020 the government had already announced economic measures worth $189 billion to deal with the impact of COVID-19.83
This included an economic stimulus package of $17.6 billion announced on 12 March, which included $4.8 billion for payments to pensioners, social security, veteran and other income support recipients and eligible concession card holders. The package also included $6.7 billion to boost cash flow for employers through payments of up to $25,000 to businesses with a turnover of less than $50 million, and $1.3 billion for eligible employers to apply for a wage subsidy of 50 percent of their apprentice's or trainee's wage.84
Coalition Senators note that the early access to superannuation was endorsed by the Retirement Income Review, and that the scheme is providing Australians who have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis much needed support.85
Coalition Senators further note that the $100 billion is a relatively small fraction of the $3 trillion currently invested in superannuation.86

Response to interim finding 5.6

The Commonwealth Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment supports eligible workers, including casual workers, who are required to self‑isolate or quarantine, who do not have leave access to paid entitlements (because it is not available or has been exhausted) and are required to self-isolate.
All states and territories have been offered similar support if they consider that they are disaster affected and are willing to enter into a cost-sharing agreement with the Commonwealth Government to extend the payment to their jurisdiction.
It is a matter for state and territory governments to determine if they are disaster affected and need to seek assistance from the Commonwealth.
The Government is working collaboratively with the states and territories to deliver support to businesses and workers to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was clear that the unfolding disaster in Victoria was being driven by high rates of workplace and community transmission of COVID-19. Coalition Senators note this is why, on 3 August, the Commonwealth introduced the $1500 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment to provide support to workers required to quarantine as instructed by health officials.87 It is available for workers who need to isolate because they have COVID-19, are a close contact of a person with COVID-19, or who have to care for someone under 16 who needs to isolate, who has no paid leave entitlements (or have exhausted their paid leave entitlements).
Coalition Senators note that the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment was introduced at about the same time stage 4 restrictions were announced in Victoria as a result of the escalating crisis.
On 26 August 2020, the Government announced that Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment arrangements would be extended to include Tasmania, following agreement with the Tasmanian Government.
On 28 August, the Commonwealth announced it would extend eligibility arrangements for the payment to include people who live in New South Wales and South Australia, but work in Victoria, and Victorians who were directed to self-isolate on or after 5 July 2020.
On 16 September the payment was extended to Western Australia, on 18 September to NSW, and on 23 October to Queensland and South Australia.
The overwhelming majority of claims have been made by Victorian workers, with more than 10 300 claims granted and $15.5 million being paid as of 23 October 2020.88
The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is available through Services Australia, and can be claimed on multiple occasions as needed.
The offer of similar support has been extended to all states and territories if they consider they are disaster affected and need to seek assistance from the Commonwealth.
Keeping Australians in work and business in business is the only way forward for a stronger economic recovery once the COVID-19 crisis passes.

Economic Response to COVID-19 Part 2: The recession and the Australian jobs crisis

Response to interim finding 6.1

Coalition Senators reject this assertion about the state of the Australian economy prior to COVID-19.
Coalition Senators point out that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian economy was growing faster than all of the G7 economies bar the US.89
Coalition Senators acknowledge the harm the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to the Australian economy. However, the government's actions have successfully cushioned the economic blow, and supported affected Australian households throughout the pandemic.
According to the 2020–21 Budget, Australia's unemployment rate is set to peak at 8 per cent in December 2020.90 This is substantially below the 15 per cent unemployment that Treasury analysis indicated would have occurred if not for the JobKeeper Payment.91
The relatively healthy state of Australia's economy is reflected in the fact that 648 500 jobs have returned to the labour market since employment fell to its lowest level in May 2020.92
Coalition Senators reiterate that it was the appropriate decision to extend JobKeeper for a further 6 months, until 28 March 2021 when the situation in Victoria had worsened and the economy in that state had gone into full lockdown in August 2020. The extension will target support to those businesses, particularly in Victoria but in all states, that continue to be most significantly impacted by the economic effects of COVID‑19 through to recovery in the months ahead.

Response to interim finding 6.2

Coalition Senators do not agree with the claim that the JobMaker plan has under delivered.


Coalition Senators are of the view that the government's HomeBuilder program has been an enormous success, with applications already in excess of 27 000. This has supported the construction industry through the crisis, and increases the opportunities for Australians to buy their most important asset.
ABS building approvals data for October 2020 have shown the highest level of detached housing approvals (at 10 692) since February 2000.93
In October 2020, the number of loans for the construction of a new dwelling increased 11.5 per cent, up 82.8 percent through the year, reaching a record-high level (at 6 631).94
Loans to first home buyers in October increased 3.4 per cent, up
48.1 per cent through the year, the highest level (at 13 481) since
October 2009.95

JobMaker Hiring Credit

Coalition Senators also acknowledge that the JobMaker Hiring Credit will accelerate growth in employment during the recovery by giving businesses incentives to take on additional young jobseekers aged 16 to 35 years old.
This will help young people access job opportunities and rebuild their connection to the labour force as the economy recovers.
JobMaker Hiring Credit will support 450 000 jobs and is appropriately targeted.96
Coalition Senators note that ABS data, from March to October 2020, shows there has been a 4.2 per cent decrease in the number of jobs for those aged between 15‑34. In contrast, over the same time the decline in jobs for those aged 35+ has only been 0.1 per cent.97 That is, the impact on younger workers is much greater than for older workers.
Australian labour market economist Jeff Borland has stated the design of JobMaker looks well-crafted to create extra jobs.98

Response to interim finding 6.3

Coalition Senators dispute the insinuation that the government has not done enough to promote jobs and economic recovery.
As Treasury has forecast, the unemployment rate is set to peak at 8 per cent in the December quarter of 202099—substantially below the 15 per cent that would have occurred if not for the government's JobKeeper plan.100
Coalition Senators also reject the suggestion that the government has neglected childcare and social housing.


As Australians return to work, businesses reopen and children return to classroom learning, the Government will resume the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) to support families to access affordable childcare.
In 2020–21, the government will pay approximately $9 billion in Child Care Subsidy (CCS) payments.101 The relaxed activity test for families impacted by COVID-19 was extended to 4 April 2021.

Social housing

Coalition Senators note that every year the Commonwealth provides more than $7 billion in Commonwealth Rent Assistance and support to the states and territories to deliver social housing through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA).
Under the NHAA, the Commonwealth provides around $1.5 billion a year to the states and territories to deliver on housing outcomes and ensure the ongoing suitability, supply and maintenance of social housing for Australians.102
The Government expects to spend around $5.5 billion on Commonwealth Rent Assistance in 2020-21, which will continue to provide support to families and low-income tenants to meet the costs of renting.103
The Government also supports the community housing sector through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation ( 'NHFIC') program which has approved almost $1.6 billion of housing loans under the Affordable Housing Bond Aggregator, supporting the delivery of more than 2,200 new social and affordable dwellings and the refinancing of a further 6,300 existing dwellings.104

National governance, coordination and communication

Response to interim finding 7.1

The National Cabinet has worked effectively to respond to COVID-19. The new National Federation Reform Council agreed to by Premiers, Chief Ministers, and the Prime Minister, will change the way the Commonwealth and states and territories effectively and productively work together to address new areas of reform.

Guiding Principles of the National Cabinet105

The National Cabinet comprises the Prime Minister (Chair), the State Premiers and the Territory Chief Ministers.
The National Cabinet operates according to the longstanding Westminster principles of collective responsibility and solidarity.
The precise structure, shape and operation of the National Cabinet are matters for its members.
The National Cabinet does not derogate from the sovereign authority and powers of the Commonwealth or any State or Territory. The Commonwealth and the States and Territories, as appropriate, remain responsible for implementing outcomes agreed by the National Cabinet.
Expert advisers may be co-opted to inform National Cabinet deliberations as appropriate.
The National Cabinet meeting schedule is determined by agreement between members.
Members, when absent, should be represented in the National Cabinet meetings only by other Ministers acting in their position and only where agreed by the Cabinet Secretary.
All proceedings and documentation of the National Cabinet remain strictly confidential.

National Cabinet Reform

On 29 May 2020, National Cabinet agreed the cessation of the COAG model, continuation of the National Cabinet and inception of the National Cabinet Reform Committees, an enhanced role for the Council of Federal Financial Relations, and establishment of the National Federation Reform Council.
Once a year, the National Cabinet, CFFR and the Australian Local Government Association will meet in person as the National Federation Reform Council with a focus on priority national federation issues such as Closing the Gap and Women's Safety.
Coalition Senators note the comments regarding the National Cabinet by the following state premiers:
Premier Mark McGowan
I could talk for hours about the national cabinet…It's a thousand times better [than COAG]. It's nimble, it's not stage-managed, you actually talk for real about issues. It elevates the states and gives us a greater say nationally.106
Premier Daniel Andrews
National cabinet is working well, with all first ministers focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic…Once we are through to the other side of this crisis, I expect COAG will look significantly different.107
My view would be that COAG is basically finished, or should be … while it's for the PM to make announcements, I certainly don't want to go back to the days of COAG where we all go up to Canberra or Sydney or wherever it is, we have a pretty turgid meeting where we don't decide much, then we all line up and do a press conference where we at best are polite about each other, and at worst it's a conflict model that doesn't really work.108
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk
The Prime Minister is really listening to the states, he is responding, and the level of co-operation is phenomenal.109
What we have seen at the national level [is] unprecedented co-operation and decision-making … I want to commend the way in which the Prime Minister is chairing the meetings, he is doing an outstanding job bringing all of the states together and listening … I think it is really important here, the Prime Minister is listening to the states and he is responding.110

Response to interim finding 7.2

Coalition Senators dispute the claim that the National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board (NCCAB) lacks transparency and accountability. It should be noted that the NCCAB is an advisory body, not a decision-making body.
The NCCAB sits within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and is bound by the usual governance protocols and processes, including in relation to procurement.
Coalition Senators highlight that the NCCAB has appeared before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 no less than three times during the course of this inquiry; on the 13 May 2020, 4 June 2020, and 11 August 2020. The NCCAB has also appeared before the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for the budget estimates hearings on 20 October 2020. The NCCAB is subject to other normal transparency mechanisms of other government agencies, including freedom of information requests and public reporting of contracts.
Coalition Senators note this parliamentary oversight is the strongest form of accountability, and we welcome the NCCAB's proactive engagement with this important process.
Senator James Paterson
Deputy Chair
Senator Perin Davey

 |  Contents  |