In the rush to deal with a global pandemic, has transparency been thrown out the window?
Crikey has been tracking the ways in which state and federal governments have failed to uphold basic standards of accountability as they grapple with an unfolding health crisis. Here’s our list so far.
Victorian health minister won’t answer questions in parliament
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has refused to answer questions in parliament about how her department has managed the coronavirus response, including when she found out about problems at quarantine hotels. Mikakos answered every question by saying she would provide a written response at a later date. The opposition has called for her resignation, describing the incident as “contempt of the parliament”.
Brendan Murphy won’t name aged-care facilities
Former chief medical officer and now secretary of the Health Department Professor Brendan Murphy refused to release a list of Victorian aged-care facilities with outbreaks of coronavirus. He told Senate estimates could cause “reputational damage” for those involved — an extraordinary claim, especially when The Age continues to reveal details of the moguls behind Epping Gardens, the facility at the heart of one of the biggest outbreaks.
Federal parliament is delayed
The Morrison government has cancelled two weeks of parliament, saying the health risk would be too great. The decision was widely criticised; many argued it was undemocratic and could have gone ahead remotely and safely. The parliament is due to sit next on August 24.
National cabinet opacity
The government has replaced the old COAG with the national cabinet, but the national cabinet meets far more frequently and documents can remain secret for up to 30 years. Crikey has written extensively about the risks of this new body to government transparency, which experts say could hinder Australia’s democratic process.
Scott Morrison’s COVID-19 commission
Scott Morrison has stacked his national COVID-19 commission with high-powered company directors who are not required to disclose any conflicts of interest, and it’s now reclassified as an advisory board to cabinet, meaning it falls under cabinet confidentiality rules.
Victoria’s genomic tests
Victoria has refused to release genomic testing that shows almost all the cases are linked to outbreaks at quarantine hotels. Its chief medical officer, Brett Sutton, has said the research couldn’t be released because of the hotel quarantine inquiry. But why should the research be considered confidential when it could help explain how things got so bad?