On 15 April 2020, the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess was established. The Special Commission was led by Bret Walker SC.
This inquiry investigated the decisions of State and Commonwealth authorities, as well as the ship operator, Carnival Australia.
The terms of reference for the Special Commission, set out in the letters patent, required the Commissioner to inquire into and report on:
- The knowledge, decisions and actions of Ruby Princess crew, medical staff and the ship operator, Princess Cruises, with respect to cases or potential cases of respiratory infections on the ship.
- The information provided to, communications between, and decisions and actions of Commonwealth and NSW agencies, including the Australian Border Force, the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, NSW Health, the NSW Police Force, NSW Ambulance and the Port Authority of NSW.
- Policies and protocols applied by Princess Cruises and Commonwealth and NSW Government agencies with respect to managing suspected or potential COVID-19 cases.
- Communications by Commonwealth and NSW Government agencies to passengers disembarking the Ruby Princess.
- Any other related matters that the Commissioner considers appropriate.
- The detailed account of the events immediately around the disembarkation is found in Chapter 7. The context provided by recent experience for the Ruby Princess is set out in Chapter 6. Critically, the development of public health procedures to meet this emergency is captured, in detail, in Chapter 5 – and its particular application during the crucial days of 18 and 19 March 2020 is tracked step by step in Chapter 8.
- The public health procedures and decisions were grounded in, and an attempt to carry out, requirements (including the exercise of legal powers) laid down by an interlocking system of Commonwealth and New South Wales (State) statutes and administrative rules and practices. They are described in Chapter 4, and to a degree critiqued in Chapter 11.
- The Commission’s evaluation of how an obviously unacceptable outcome could – and should – have been avoided or at least much alleviated is spelled out in Chapter 10, specifically with respect to how matters unfolded on the morning of 19 March.