The Politics    Thursday, June 30, 2022

Taking stock

By Rachel Withers

Image of Health Minister Mark Butler during a press conference at Parliament House, June 22, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Health Minister Mark Butler during a press conference at Parliament House, June 22, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

From vaccines to carbon credits, the new government announces more reviews into the old one’s messes

It was another big day for cleaning up the mess left behind, as the Albanese government continues to assess the inherited damage. But members of the government are not, as Liberal MP Karen Andrews tried to claim on Sky News, “running around effectively flapping their hands”. Health Minister Mark Butler has announced a fast-tracked review into COVID-19 vaccine procurement, and whether there need to be changes to existing agreements (or, as Nine puts it, “how Australia was caught short at the height of the pandemic”). The snap inquiry, to be led by senior public servant Jane Halton, is not intended to replace the larger inquiry into the pandemic response, which will come later. But it is no doubt going to uncover some interesting details about what happened in 2020, when former health minister Greg Hunt failed to take up an early meeting with Pfizer (we never really got a satisfactory answer on that) and in 2021, when former PM Scott Morrison dashed around buying up other countries’ excess stock. “I have no reason to think that [the vaccine deals] aren’t appropriate, but this is a fast-moving landscape,” Butler told a press conference. A Nine source thinks otherwise, telling the paper that “the government doesn’t have confidence that Health has got vaccine procurement right for the next two years.”

Speaking of fast-moving: Australia needs to “act now” to facilitate the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 30-year road map, which was released today. With 60 per cent of the eastern seaboard’s coal fleet to leave the grid within the next decade, the report finds that wind and solar farms must grow ninefold (and the amount of back-up supply must triple) if we are to maintain reliable power during the transition. “We’re calling for these transmission projects to be progressed as urgently as possible,” said AEMO chief executive Daniel Westerman. If only the previous government had made any headway on this. Energy Minister Chris Bowen, meanwhile, is tomorrow expected to unveil a sweeping review into the carbon credit system, which a whistleblower earlier this year labelled a “sham”. Bowen said that an independent review headed by credible experts was required to ensure confidence in the system, adding that the concerns raised were “substantial and real” and he took them “very seriously”.

Then there’s the pre-existing review into the Liberal-stacked Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with the final report set to be released today. The Senate inquiry, chaired by outgoing Labor senator Kim Carr, is expected to reiterate its earlier calls to “disassemble” the AAT, which has been heavily stacked with Liberal-linked members. It’s not yet clear what Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus intends to do with the recommendations. But he today continued his criticism of the body, telling the Nine papers that the previous government had “undermined” it by treating it as a “Liberal Party employment agency”. “I am now carefully considering how I can undo the damage of the last nine years, and ensure the AAT once again serves the interests of all Australians, not just the Liberal Party and its mates,” Dreyfus said.

And that’s not to mention the damage control being undertaken by Anthony Albanese on the world stage, with the PM telling reporters that free-trade negotiations with the European Union will resume in coming months. Albanese put their collapse down to climate and submarines, with the latter being another area in which the new government has a doozy on its hands, as outgoing senator and ongoing submarine expert Rex Patrick noted on RN Breakfast this morning. (Patrick reckons it’s too late for a nuclear subs option at all.)

There will no doubt be countless reviews in the months to come, as the Labor government looks into the many rorts, stacks and missteps of its predecessor. Nine years of denial and delay on energy policy, as Labor keeps phrasing it, has had a significant impact on the ability of our energy market to adapt to the challenges ahead. But we are only just beginning to find out the full impact that nine years of scandal has had on our nation.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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