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Concerns about the public's critique on virus quarantining failures in 2001 draws parallels with the Morrison government's handling of the pandemic two decades later.
Then prime minister John Howard and his cabinet were faced with the challenge of dealing with another zoonotic disease - foot and mouth - at the turn of the century, with concerns its incursion into Australia would decimate export markets.
Classified cabinet documents from 2001, made public on Saturday, reveal senior government ministers grappling with how best to manage screening and quarantining of the disease.
"The current foot and mouth disease outbreak has focused public attention on quarantine ... (and) the community will be critical of any failures, real or perceived, of our system," then-agriculture minister Warren Truss warned cabinet in April 2001.
It is a sentiment the Labor opposition two decades later is using to chastise the Morrison government during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the lead up to the 2022 federal election.
Labor has criticised the government for outbreaks and COVID-19 cases resulting from at least 30 breaches of quarantine throughout the pandemic, saying immigration responsibility was delegated to the states.
Speaking to journalists at the release of his cabinet's documents, Mr Howard said the Commonwealth had specific powers, with the remainder belonging to the states, as he seemingly defended Mr Morrison's handling of the pandemic.
"This idea that the premiers have grabbed power - they have always had that power, the federal government has never had public health power," he said.
"It is just that the power has been laying dormant."
The cabinet papers reveal Mr Howard wanted a more cohesive relationship with the states on disease outbreak management, noting there needed to be full input from all jurisdictions and affected agencies if there were to be a "prompt resolution".
Mr Howard noted that while it was the responsibility of states and territories to handle the emergency response to outbreaks, all governments would bear the legal, social and political costs associated with one.
So Mr Howard proposed in 2001 the Council of Australian Governments - a meeting of all Australia's premiers and first ministers, which acted as the precursor to national cabinet - to develop a national plan to manage a large-scale disease outbreak.
"All governments would be seen by the public and industry as individually and collectively culpable if they did not act (adequately)," Mr Howard told cabinet.
The health department similarly warned at the time that multi-jurisdictional collaboration was necessary to "place Australia in a position to react quickly and effectively to any biological emergency".
It is a communique that would likely stand up in the cabinet of Prime Minister Scott Morrison following two years of tit-for-tat attacks and arguments with premiers and states over pandemic policies and responsibilities.