Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News First Edition
22 September 2023
Subjects: The Prime Minister’s COVID inquiry
PETER STEFANOVIC: Joining us live now, the Shadow Health Minister, Anne Ruston. Anne, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So the Treasurer on the program last hour, he was running defence for the COVID inquiry, as you would expect, but he says it will be comprehensive. Will it?
ANNE RUSTON: Well, I mean, the reality is unless you can compel the states and territories to turn up and actually talk about the decisions that they made that had such massive implications on the lives of Australians, then it's just a farce. I mean, he can say what he likes, but clearly both Annastacia Palaszczuk and Daniel Andrews don't seem to have much appetite for turning up and actually explaining the decisions that they made, particularly in Victoria when you saw the devastating impact. I'm sorry, the Treasurer can say whatever he likes, the proof of this will be in whether they actually do turn up. And at this stage, I think every Australian knows that Daniel Andrews is not very good at turning up and being transparent about his actions.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah. Well, for it to be comprehensive, in your view, what shape does it need to take?
RUSTON: Well, the Prime Minister promised Australians that he would have a royal commission or an inquiry with the kinds of powers of a royal commission, which would enable the compelling of witnesses to turn up and actually explain their actions. Because this isn't – Well, it shouldn't be a witch hunt. What it should be doing is shining a light on every single aspect of our COVID response to make sure that if we're ever faced with the situation again, we were as prepared as we possibly can be. So, you know, if we've got sectors of our community who are not showing up and providing that kind of information, then they should be compelled to do so. This is just a broken promise by the Prime Minister. He was quite happy to tell the Australian public that he was going to be really comprehensive and thorough about an inquiry when he was coming into an election. And then, now that the states and territories have pushed back on him, he has just rolled over and now we've got this half-baked sort of quasi-inquiry that will probably deliver nothing.
STEFANOVIC: So, is that why you think it wasn't the full royal commission, because of outside pressures?
RUSTON: Well, clearly the states and territories - And you've only got to listen to the words of the premiers. I mean, when questioned about it yesterday, Daniel Andrews, all he could talk about was things that were in the domain of the Federal Government. You know, he clearly doesn't want to come and have any scrutiny about the decisions that he made that had such devastating impacts on the lives of Victorians and consequently flow-on impacts for other people living in other states. You know, people who weren't able to go and visit loved ones who were dying because he wouldn't let them across the border. I mean, there were really serious decisions made. And he appears at this stage as if he's got no intention of turning up and explaining why he made those decisions and whether he'd do them again.
STEFANOVIC: Well, not just Victoria, but next year there's a Queensland election, Anne.
RUSTON: Well, indeed, indeed. And so this just looks like a political stunt. I think there's two parts to it. One is that the Prime Minister has been rolled because the state and territory premiers don't want to participate, particularly Queensland and Victoria. And secondly, you know, clearly he wants this to be a political witch hunt on the previous Coalition Government, because nowhere in the terms of reference does it suggest that he's going to look at his own Government's response to the pandemic. Don't forget, the pandemic didn't finish on the 22nd of May 2022. We've seen record deaths in aged care. We've seen plummeting vaccination rates. I mean, are these the kinds of things that are going to be investigated? It just looks like the Prime Minister is running a protection racket for his mates in the states and territories and trying to engage in a witch hunt against the previous Coalition Government.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Well, just on the inquiry, I mean, does it wash that the inquiry just deals with the federal aspect of it because that is what was within its control, leaving the States aside.
RUSTON: This pandemic was the most impactful event that Australians have ever seen who are alive. I mean, it's probably the most impactful event since the Second World War, and this is the kind of pathetic half-baked response the Government thinks is sufficient to actually deal with it. I mean, to think that something as important as this and had such an impact on Australia doesn't deserve something of the size of a royal commission, doesn't deserve something that's comprehensive and looks at all aspects of it, I think he's just treating the Australian public with absolute contempt. I mean, this was so serious and it deserves a serious response, and I think the Prime Minister has shirked full responsibility for that serious response with this pathetic response that we saw yesterday.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. So, if you were in charge, would you be pushing for the full royal commission?
RUSTON: Well, I certainly think that a royal commission or something with the powers of a royal commission is absolutely warranted here. I mean, we've had royal commissions into all sorts of things that I would suggest were less important. In fact, there couldn't really be much that was more important than dealing with our response to the pandemic. So, I think that the kind of inquiry and the kind of depth of inquiry should reflect the depth of the seriousness of the issue that's before us. And nothing could be more serious than the pandemic. Nothing had a bigger impact on this country than the pandemic. So, to come up with something that didn't have the full powers - You know, the Prime Minister needs to explain why he hasn't pushed this and the premiers need to explain why they won't turn up.
STEFANOVIC: That's the Shadow Health Minister, Anne Ruston. Thanks Anne. Appreciate it.