Independent MP Zali Steggall has again raised concern about the Australian government’s National Covid Coordination Commission.
Steggall insists there is “no transparency about its governance or processes“, as the commission prepares to appear before a Senate inquiry about the response to the Covid-19 pandemic this week.
“We need transparency, proper governance, and independent reporting so the Australian people know what it is considering, and why it’s considering it, and what it is recommending to government,” she told the Guardian Australia.
“It also needs a clear disclosure process for conflicts of interest. We know nothing about this coordination commission. There’s no transparency about its governance and processes, and it raises serious questions when you see the chairman openly spruiking in a number of interviews that it should be a gas-led recovery in light of his background.”
Concern from other bodies, too
The Human Rights Law Centre, Transparency International, the Grata Fund and the Centre for Public Integrity are also among those concerned the commission is promoting gas – ahead of other fuel sources – as key to the Covid economic recovery.
“We need competitive energy prices, particularly gas, to attract large-scale manufacturing like fertiliser and petrochemicals,” commission chairman Nev Power told Nine Newspapers last month. “There is absolutely no reason why Australia can’t be very competitive with those.”
Centre for Public Integrity chairman Anthony Whealy, who is a former court of appeal judge, wants the commission’s influence within the government to be properly supported.
“All public agencies need to be accountable to the public interest. The NCCC requires independent appointments, strong oversight mechanisms, and to be established under legislation like any other government body,” said Whealy.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison introduced the coordination commission in March 2020. Its remit is relatively broad – and advises the government on all non-health aspects of the response to the pandemic. The commission is following “best-practice arrangements for managing the integrity of its advice,” according to a commission spokesperson.
“Recognising that their expertise and affiliations may expose them to perceptions of potential conflicts of interests, the NCCC is following strict government practice, as applies to ministers and senior public servants, in managing potential conflict of interest in relation to each of the members of the NCCC,” the spokesperson told the Guardian Australia.