Finance Minister Katy Gallagher has defended the Albanese government's decision not to hold a COVID-19 inquiry with the compelling powers of a royal commission amid calls to go back to the drawing board and "do it properly".
There has been a furious response to the terms of reference for the long-awaited inquiry from human rights groups, health figures, and the federal opposition, particularly over the decision to exclude unilateral decisions made by the state and territory governments that called lockdowns and distributed vaccines and tests.
The 12-month inquiry, announced on Wednesday by the Prime Minister, will also not have the power to compel witnesses to appear and is not required to hold public hearings.
Anthony Albanese said it would look at the government's responses and "give advice on what worked, what didn't, and what we can do in the future to best protect Australians from the worst of any future events".
But leaving out the most controversial of decisions has left it open to criticism that it is "limited" in scope, while the Coalition has accused the government of protecting Labor premiers.
Senator Gallagher, who led a Senate inquiry into COVID while Labor was in opposition and said separately to the inquiry last year that there should be a COVID-19 royal commission, said the new review was an "excellent way to proceed".
"A fair bit has changed," the minister told reporters in Canberra.
"That report was handed down 18 months ago. There have been a huge number of inquiries and reviews that have gone on since that time which no doubt the independent team will be able to use as part of their work."
The government-appointed independent panel will consider a number of issues, including the provision of vaccinations, treatments, and medical supplies as well as financial support for people and businesses, and help for Australians abroad.
The three members of the panel are Deakin University's chair in epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett, former director-general of the NSW Department of Health Robyn Kruk, and health economist Dr Angela Jackson.
Senator Gallagher described them as "three incredibly talented reviewers" who would be focused on a "forward-looking process".
"Not a blame game ... not a political exercise, but a genuine attempt to basically ensure that we are in the best place that we can be when the next pandemic arrives," she said.
"I hope they do use some of the work that we did in that COVID report. It was a long inquiry. It was conducted during the crisis part of the pandemic."
Among the groups criticising the terms of reference are the main doctor's group, the Australian Medical Association, and the Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay.
In a statement, the commissioner said the move to exclude state and territory actions would mean that many key aspects of Australia's response will go unexamined.
Opposition frontbencher Simon Birmingham said it was a "ridiculous proposition" to carve out the states.
"This inquiry, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing properly. It's not worth some half-baked job that only looks at half of the issues or even less than that potentially," he told Sky News.
"So the government's got to work out whether it actually wants to do this properly.
"In which case go back to the drawing board, or if not, frankly, scrap the idea.
"Save the money and don't worry about putting everybody through the hassle because this is a ridiculous proposition to carve out large slabs."
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