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Human Rights Commissioner critical of COVID inquiry scope

Rights and Freedoms
the Corona Virus on a video screen
Content type: Media Release
Topic(s): Civil and Political Rights

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of an inquiry into Australia’s handling of the COVID pandemic but has criticised the inquiry’s terms of reference for not having a specific focus on human rights impacts and for excluding the unilateral actions of state and territory governments.

Today Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the government will conduct and an independent inquiry into Australia’s pandemic response to better prepare and protect our country for the future.

Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay said: “I’ve been calling for an inquiry for some time, so I welcome the government’s commitment to examining aspects of the COVID response such as governance, health response measures and financial, community and international policy supports.

“However, the decision to exclude actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments means many key aspects of Australia’s response will go unexamined. Australia is a federation and needs an inquiry that reflects this.

“Lockdowns, border closures, school closures, mask mandates and many other aspects were the domain of state and territory governments and to not examine these as part of the inquiry means it will be harder for us to improve our response for future pandemics.

“The lack of a stated focus on how Australia’s COVID response impacted on the human rights of people is also concerning.

“The policy decisions taken by all governments – as well as the implementation of those decisions – had significant human rights implications for people here in Australia and overseas. These may end up being considered by the inquiry but not having human rights explicitly part of the key terms of reference is disappointing.

“We need to ensure the rights and freedoms that were lost during the pandemic are better protected into the future and we need to ensure the human cost of the pandemic is properly understood so our emergency responses in the future don’t leave people or their rights behind.”

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