Peta Credlin - Headshots
Peta Credlin - Headshots

We need a royal commission into COVID response

Well, it didn't take long did it for our enviable position as a COVID-free country to evaporate. Less than a week ago we had all but eliminated coronavirus from the Australian community. and the only new cases were those we imported whenever another aircraft landed and disgorged its passengers and crew.

 

Aircrews at Sydney Airport on Saturday were collected by ground transport and taken to their hotels. Picture: David Swift
Aircrews at Sydney Airport on Saturday were collected by ground transport and taken to their hotels. Picture: David Swift

To date, we've put our effort into making returned travellers go through a fairly strict 14 days of hotel quarantine and largely, Victoria aside, that's kept infections away from the domestic population; but am I the only one who was surprised to hear that flight crews largely came and went from 20-plus separate NSW hotels on nothing much more than a gentlemen's agreement? And it's not just NSW here that's failed either - Victoria also gave aircrew a free pass, and Queensland has for months been granting international celebrities special exemptions to isolate in luxury digs!

It's moments like this when I question what ministers have been doing if someone somewhere wasn't conscious that once the virus was extinguished, our only risk point was importing it and therefore checking and double-checking any avenues for escape.

 

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Picture: NCA NewsWire
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Picture: NCA NewsWire

 

 

Back when Victoria was copping 700 new infections per day I would have assumed every other government would have reviewed how good their contact-tracing was, how quickly they could stand up new mega-testing sites, how well their pathology labs could cope with a flood of tests, and what were the entry points of people coming to Australia - not just passengers on a plane, but the crew too, plus the sailors on ships carrying our freight - everything.

But clearly this didn't happen, as the people of Sydney's northern beaches are now finding out as they entered lockdown yesterday only days out from Christmas.

You have to wonder what NSW Health Minister Brad "Hapless" Hazzard was thinking. allowing upwards of 200 aircrew a day to enter NSW without precautionary quarantine.

Surely at the very least, given they fly in and out again fairly promptly, he could have put them all in the one hotel at the airport and secured the perimeter?

What about a testing regime prior to boarding, given there's now a range of rapid tests that weren't available at the start of this pandemic?

What's the federal Transport Minister Michael McCormack been doing, given many of the rules governing flight crew are negotiated at an international level?

 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has kept a cool head throughout the pandemic. Picture: AAP/Dan Himbrechts
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has kept a cool head throughout the pandemic. Picture: AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Yet again, like Ruby Princess and Melbourne's hotel quarantine catastrophe, we've taken our governments on trust and, despite most of us doing the right thing, they've let us down.

Beyond the fact that ministers and officials could have done more, this new Sydney outbreak has highlighted how COVID hysteria quickly disrupts any sense of normality, even though we can't avoid living with this virus, pending rollout of a vaccine in the new year.

Despite the issue with aircrew, the NSW Premier deserves credit for showing confidence in her testing and tracing infrastructure and keeping the economy open while simultaneously dealing with any outbreaks. It's no mean feat to keep a cool head in a crisis, and Gladys Berejiklian has consistently set herself apart from the "panic-merchant" premiers in other states.

By now, Queensland and Western Australia should be capable of keeping their borders open because they can trust their own systems to respond to any minor flare-ups of this virus - their propensity to slam the door after months and months of bombastically assuring voters they have everything under control shows they don't have confidence in their own systems.

Of course, the premiers can only shut their borders and shutter their economies because Scott Morrison is paying for it, via the billions to keep businesses open and to pay wages. Or better expressed, we are.

So, while some in Perth or Brisbane might be smug, it's worth remembering that when it comes to debt, if not the disease, we really are "all in it together" - or at least our children and grandchildren will be as they pay off this debt over coming decades.

 

John Gercsov has taken COVID management into his own hands. Picture: Monique Harmer
John Gercsov has taken COVID management into his own hands. Picture: Monique Harmer

Debt - and the panic of sub-par premiers addicted to border posturing - aside, as tough as 2020 has been, we only need to look around the world to see how lucky we are.

That shouldn't breed complacency, given the worst of the economic shock is still to come in March when wage payments are withdrawn, but it should give us confidence that provided we keep our heads and don't succumb to COVID hysteria, we can come through this.

Given the thousand deaths and the $300 billion in federal spending alone on this pandemic, it's critical that there's a federal royal commission into Australia's response to the coronavirus: Was all the spending really necessary and was it well targeted? How could our borders have been better managed? And did we get the balance right between safety and prosperity, and between security and freedom?

Because well before the next pandemic we need to ponder all the lessons of this one, free from the panic of its early onset and the self-czongratulation that's widespread now.

 

THUMBS UP: Andrew Hastie and Amanda Stoker - two promotions to the Morrison government's frontbench that show merit still matters.

THUMBS DOWN: Victorian government language bans prohibiting public servants to use the words "husband" or "wife" under new rules just shows Labor's warped priorities. When will this madness stop?

Originally published as We need a royal commission into COVID response



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