Australia pressing on with virus inquiry

Scott Morrison insists it would be “absolutely nonsense” to suggest the coronavirus started anywhere other than China.

The prime minister is pushing ahead with calls for a global inquiry into the origins of the deadly disease despite diplomatic blowback from the Chinese government.

“I don’t think anybody is in any fantasy land about where it started – it started in China,” he told 2GB radio on Friday.

“What the world over needs to know – and there’s a lot of support for this – is how did it start and what are the lessons to be learned.

“That needs to be done independently. And why do we want to know that? Because it could happen again.”

The prime minister also criticised mining magnate Andrew Forrest for questioning the origins of the virus and inviting a Chinese official to address a press conference without warning the minister first.

Mr Morrison thanked the billionaire for helping secure 10 million coronavirus testing kits from China.

“But when it comes to foreign affairs advice, I’ll take my foreign affairs advice from foreign affairs officials,” he said.

“When it comes to business advice, I’ll talk to business people. When it comes to health advice, I’ll talk to health people. I won’t ask them for history advice, either.

“That’s what I’ll do, I’ll talk to the experts in their fields.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has indicated the COVID-19 review is picking up steam. 

“There is a very broad range of understanding that there is definitely a need for an independent and transparent review,” she told ABC radio.

“We have been very gratified by the engagement we’ve had in recent days and in the last week, with the prime minister’s calls and my own.”

Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye has floated a consumer boycott of Australian products in retaliation to the review.

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said Chinese diplomats had been “downright despicable and menacing” since Australia started pressing the case for an investigation.

But Senator Payne isn’t perturbed.

“What we do need to do is to put that stake in the ground, to say we need to have an independent and transparent review,” she said.

Australian National University’s Andrew Carr warned attempts by Australia to rebuke China could distract from calls for an inquiry into COVID-19’s origins.

Dr Carr told AAP the current spat was minor in the scheme of things but Australia shouldn’t let it slide.

A serious inquiry into coronavirus’ origins could help counter conspiracy theories and racist attacks.

But Australia was well positioned to manage how diplomats inside Australia are supposed to act, he said.

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