(Apr. 16, 2020) On April 8, 2020, the Australian Senate “resolved to establish a Select Committee on COVID-19 to inquire into the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The committee was tasked with presenting its final report to the Senate on or before June 30, 2022.
The establishment of the committee was moved by Labor Party Senator Katy Gallagher, the manager of opposition business in the Senate and Labor’s finance spokesperson. She moved that “the committee consist of 7 senators, as follows”:
(a) 3 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate;
(b) 2 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate;
(c) 1 nominated by the Leader of the Australian Greens; and
(d) Senator Jacqui Lambie.
Sittings of the Parliament are currently suspended until August 11, 2020, as a result of a revised schedule approved on March 23. The new committee, established by the Senate during a subsequent special sitting on April 8, “is aimed at filling a void of scrutiny opened after the suspension of parliamentary sittings until August.” Senator Gallagher was appointed to chair the committee, with Liberal Party Senator James Patterson, a government nominee, being appointed as the deputy chairperson.
The special one-day sitting of both the House of Representatives and the Senate on April 8 was primarily due to the need to pass four bills establishing a wage subsidy called the “JobKeeper Payment” as part of Australia’s COVID-19 economic response package. This biweekly payment, to be paid to workers by their employers, is set at AU$1,500 (about US$950) and will be in place for six months, with the full cost expected to be AU$130 billion (about US$82.4 billion).