Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements chair Mark Binskin (Image: AAP/Supplied)

Already, there has been an inquiry announced as a result of coronavirus — in this case in response to the Ruby Princess fiasco. Barrister Bret Walker will be given “extraordinary powers” to investigate all matters and agencies related to the ship.

But elsewhere, the inquiry bandwagon into other pressing national matters has been slowed, or entirely halted. Here is an update.

Bushfires

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements began last Thursday and, due to complications in information gathering thanks to the coronavirus, has extended its submission date by two weeks until April 28. It’s already received over 400 submissions, and many are calling for the deadline to be extended further.

The commission will not “point the finger” of blame over Australia’s lost summer, chair Mark Binskin has insisted.

Meanwhile, there is a parallel inquiry being held in New South Wales, headed by the state’s former police deputy commissioner Dave Owens and former chief scientist Mary O’Kane.

“We are still working to complete a comprehensive and robust bushfire inquiry despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented,” O’Kane told The Sydney Morning Herald. The inquiry will revert to a “virtual format” to allow community input, and has a July 31 deadline for reporting.

Aged care

As Janine Perrett noted in these pages last week, the sudden interest in the the welfare of elderly Australians requires a great deal of wilful amnesia about what they were already going through before the pandemic hit.

Horrifying evidence was presented in the aged care royal commission, including abuse, chemical restraints and malnutrition at the hands of ill-trained and underpaid staff.

It amounted to what the interim report called a “shocking tale of neglect”.

The aged care royal commission has announced it will suspend all hearings and workshops in response to the evolving coronavirus pandemic, at least until the end of May.

Mental health

In the leftie people’s feelocracy of Victoria, of course we got Australia’s first royal commission into mental health.

The inquiry — which delivered its interim report last year — painted a picture of an underfunded, and overstretched system in Victoria, concluding 300,000 Victorians living with severe mental illness are not receiving the care they need. The final report is due later this year.

While we wait for that, the commissioners urged people to seek help during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every one of us, locally, nationally and around the world, will feel the emotional impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” inquiry chair Penny Armytage said in a statement on behalf of the commission.

Crown resorts

In July of last year, the Nine papers ran an expose alleging that Crown resorts had been in business with groups backed by powerful organised crime syndicates, as well as exploiting visa loopholes to fly high rollers into the country without doing proper vetting.

Following these revelations, the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority launched an inquiry in mid-January this year, overseen by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin.

The inquiry was going to further investigate the deal between James Packer and Hong Kong casino magnate Lawrence Ho. Ho bought almost 10% of Crown Resorts from Packer, despite being the director of a company banned from involvement with Crown.

However, Crown can breath a sigh of relief, with the authority announcing on April 3 that it had “decided that most of the work of the casino inquiry will be deferred in the current context of the COVID-19 epidemic, until it is considered safe and practicable for all public aspects of the work to resume”.

Newstart

The Senate inquiry into “the adequacy of Newstart and related payments” has held eight hearings since October last year (the last was in mid-February) and attracted were more than 300 submissions. Only one was against any rise in benefits. It was submitted by the government.

The Liberal government has long been the sole unequivocal voice against raising Newstart — though Labor did wait until after the election to explicitly call for an increase.

The reporting date was originally April 16, but was extended to April 30. Of course it will be interesting to see whether the committee takes into account the government’s tacit concession that Newstart was nowhere near enough to live on by renaming and doubling it when the coronavirus crisis meant it wouldn’t just be the easy-to-hate figures of the long term unemployed who needed help.

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Peter Fray
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