Ruby Princess inquiry a 'sham', says union

An international union wants the NSW government to widen its inquiry into the Ruby Princess fiasco.
An international union wants the NSW government to widen its inquiry into the Ruby Princess fiasco.

A global transport union has slammed the NSW government for not expanding the terms of reference of its inquiry into the Ruby Princess fiasco, which is linked to a cluster of coronavirus-related deaths.

The International Transport Workers' Federation Australian coordinator Dean Summers said the cruise ship's 1200 crew were victims of "political smother" and their health had been disregarded by authorities.

He claimed the "narrow" terms of reference in the Special Commission of Inquiry, conducted by Bret Walker SC, had failed to provide an open and transparent line of questioning.

"The limited scope of the terms of reference renders the inquiry a sham," Mr Summers said in a statement on Thursday.

More than 20 coronavirus deaths across Australia have been linked to the 2700 passengers who disembarked the Ruby Princess when it docked at Circular Quay on March 19.

The inquiry in late June heard a woman who died from the virus after disembarking the cruise ship had been told repeatedly by on-board health authorities she had the flu and it was "nothing to worry about".

The inquiry's terms of reference allow Mr Walker to investigate efforts made to diagnose, treat and contain the community transmission of COVID-19 in Ruby Princess passengers after they left the ship.

They also enable the commissioner to probe the communications and information of federal and NSW agencies, their decisions or actions, and "any other related matters" he considers appropriate.

But Mr Summers said the terms of reference must be expanded to examine events after March 19 with a focus on the health and safety of crew, and whether decisions made on medical care had increased the risk of coronavirus for them and the greater public.

The vessel sat idle in Sydney for weeks with hundreds of crew on board, before it was exiled to Wollongong's Port Kembla after a COVID-19 outbreak among passengers and crew.

It left Port Kembla on April 23 and travelled to Manila in the Philippines.

"We need to know with what information did the NSW Government send the Ruby Princess from Sydney to Port Kembla?" Mr Summers said.

"NSW Government and federal authorities are responsible as much for the welfare of the crew of the Ruby Princess as they are for the welfare of passengers."

A letter from the inquiry's senior solicitor assisting, Jennifer Hoy, to the ITF on July 8 said the commissioner did not intend to request the NSW government expand the terms of reference.

"It is now a matter for the premier," the letter, seen by AAP, said.

NSW opposition deputy leader Yasmin Catley said the Berejiklian government had not expanded the terms of reference because that would "divulge further misgivings".

Public hearings began in April and are scheduled to run until July 17.

The NSW government confirmed it received the ITF's letter but did not comment further.

Australian Associated Press