Committee Chair, Mr Julian Hill MP today tabled the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit‘s report on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) crisis management arrangements during COVID-19.
The Committee examined DFAT’s role in facilitating the return of Australians who had been stranded overseas during the pandemic due to border closures and travel restrictions, based on a performance audit of this response by the Australian National Audit Office.
The Committee expressed deep concern regarding DFAT’s evidence that no advice was provided to inform certain public statements made by Ministers in the previous government during the pandemic.
“This led to confusing and misleading public messaging to stranded Australians in 2020 and 2021, and underscores the responsibility of government ministers to ensure they are informed by sensible and evidence-based advice before making public commitments in such sensitive areas,” Mr Hill said.
“The Committee also considers that more could and should have been done by the Commonwealth to provide adequate quarantine facilities later in the pandemic. This was one of the key constraints upon DFAT’s ability to bring stranded Australians home.”
The Committee makes several unanimous recommendations aimed at strengthening the Australian Government’s future crisis response, and ensuring that lessons learned from COVID-19 are incorporated into existing frameworks, including that:
- the Government formally respond to the 2021 Halton review into hotel quarantine arrangements
- human rights considerations be incorporated into the Australian Government Crisis Management Framework, and
- the Auditor-General consider an audit of the updated version of this Framework.
Mr Hill commended the department for its ongoing dedication to assisting Australians across the globe, saying that “it is important that DFAT and the wider Australian Public Service learn from the unprecedented global crisis that COVID-19 posed, so that the Australian Government will be better prepared to assist our most vulnerable citizens during future crises.”
The Committee focused on matters relating to DFAT’s data capability, response coordination, assistance for vulnerable Australians, and procurement practices under the crisis management framework.
The report is available on the Committee’s website.