Senate committee calls for funding of failed COVIDSafe app to be dropped

From May to November 2020, the COVIDSafe app chipped in 0.1% of all close contact detections in New South Wales.

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Australia's COVIDSafe app, which was initially likened to digital sunscreen by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has been slammed by the Senate committee tasked with reviewing the federal government's pandemic response.

"By not recognising the app's faults, or seeking to fix the app, the government has continued to oversee an application which is not fit for its intended purpose, has cost millions of dollars, and offered limited public value," the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 said in its final report.

The entire committee, except for one Coalition member, supported this view.

This finding was made as a study conducted by the committee, which concluded in February, found the use of COVIDSafe in New South Wales between May and November 2020 detected only 17 additional close contacts that had not already been identified through conventional contact tracing methods.

Percentage-wise, the 17 close contacts detected by the COVIDSafe app amounted to 0.1% of all identified close contacts in the state during that period.

The committee added that the federal government has been unwilling to provide an update on how many additional contacts the COVIDSafe app has identified, choosing to instead claim the states and territories are responsible for reporting the number of cases identified.

In response to the ineffectiveness of the COVIDSafe app, the committee has recommended that the federal government cease any future expenditure of public funds on the failed COVIDSafe application.

"The evidence over the past two years has consistently shown that the Morrison Government had been unprepared when the pandemic hit, responded too slowly, ignored expert advice and failed to take responsibility when things went wrong," committee chair and Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said.  

The committee also called for a royal commission to be established to examine Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic to inform preparedness for future COVID-19 waves and pandemics.

As of October 2021, AU$9.2 million had been spent by the federal government to run the COVIDSafe app which, on average, amounted to AU$200,000 per month. While the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) said the expenditure for running the app has dropped, it is still around AU$60,000 every month.  

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