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  • Australia's COVID-19 response 'worst ever failing'

    Author: AAP

Australia's COVID-19 pandemic response has been slammed as the "worst ever public health failing" as doctors call for a royal commission into the nation's handling of the crisis.

Labor went into the 2022 election promising a royal commission on the COVID-19 years, but in September it drew fierce criticism when the government instead announced a special commission of inquiry.

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Its terms of reference will include vaccinations, treatments and mental health support, but will not investigate the pandemic's controversial features including lockdowns and mask mandates.

Dr Scott Prasser from the Australian Institute for Progress told a Senate committee on Thursday, the best form of inquiry for the nation was a royal commission.

This was due to its coercive powers, ability to request documents, summon witnesses, take evidence under oath and hold public hearings.

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"We need to know what really happened," Dr Prasser said.

Australian Institute for Progress executive director Graham Young said the nation's management of the pandemic fell short.

"Policies dealing with COVID were in my view, the worst ever public policy and public health failing in this country," he told the inquiry.

Mr Young said the people behind the decision making didn't appear to be diverse enough to take into account the needs of the whole community.

The inquiry is expected to deliver its final report in September but the Australian Human Rights Commission maintains a joint federal and state royal commission would be the "best option" to comprehensively examine Australia's response.

"While the commission has welcomed these inquiries ... they are not sufficient substitutes for a properly constituted royal commission," Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay wrote in her submission.

"The full human cost of the pandemic was substantial and cannot be measured by considering only the direct health and economic impacts."

Rapidly changing health orders, on-the-spot fines and heavy reliance on policing are a priority for the Redfern Legal Centre.

Medical bodies such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have recommended the inquiry assess the vaccine rollout, mental health impacts, health response measures like lockdowns, public messaging and more.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation meanwhile has suggested focusing on hospital working conditions, funding and staffing levels as well as preparedness and training.

A civil liberties group has proposed an examination of movement restrictions such as state border closures while think tanks want to examine the use of emergency powers.

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