On 1 March 2020, the first Australian death from COVID-19 occurred, and, on 11 March, the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic. By the middle of the month, the number of Australian cases was doubling every three days. Australia and the world were facing the greatest infectious disease crisis since the Spanish Flu almost exactly a century earlier.
How well would Australia cope, and, in particular, how well would Australian federalism cope? This was no idle question given that doubts and dysfunctions seemed to have plagued Australia’s federal system for decades. Indeed, Australia was lurching directly from one crisis to another as the horrific 2019–2020 bushfire season found emergency management in the federation wanting in a variety of ways. Would Australia’s “patchwork” of laws fail to meet the task or could the system provide the flexibility and choice to deliver a suitably calibrated response?
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