For weeks, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has promised to be held accountable for errors in hotel quarantine that led to Melbourne’s devastating second wave.
Today, we got some of that, as he copped a lengthy grilling from state MPs at the public accounts estimates committee, interrupted briefly, of course, by microphone troubles.
Andrews said Victoria was in the midst of a second wave, but pointed to modelling that suggested current stage four lockdowns were working — without the intervention, we could have been looking at close to 20,000 daily cases in the coming weeks.
But the appearance also left plenty of questions — including around the critical failures on hotel quarantine — unanswered.
Liberal MP Richard Riordan, the committee’s deputy chair, wasted most of his question time trying to get Andrews, or one of his ministers, to fall on their sword.
Andrews said Jobs Minister Martin Pakula, who was responsible for hotel quarantine, would not be resigning.
“I’m not interested in playing political games with questions like that,” Andrews said.
“We are all working as hard as we can to fight a wicked enemy. That’s the enemy I’m exclusively focused on.”
Hotel quarantine bungles
It took over an hour of the hearing for Nationals MP Danny O’Brien to ask the question everyone was waiting for: who made the decision to put private security guards in charge of the hotel quarantine program in Victoria?
Andrews said the government had simply extended existing quarantine programs, in place for people who had to isolate.
“In many respects, hotel quarantine system simply became an extension of previously agreed processes, so a service, if you like, that was already on the ground and running,” Andrews said.
Andrews also continued to duck questions, referring to the inquiry chaired by former judge Jennifer Coate, which will commence hearings next week.
“There are some questions that can be answered, and there are other questions that simply cannot … the judge’s process is not set up because we have all the answers. It is set up to get us all the answers,” Andrews said.
Later, Andrews said it couldn’t be said for sure that Victoria was the only state which had seen outbreaks linked to hotel quarantine.
Tower lockdowns: not perfect
Greens MP Sam Hibbins stuck the boot in over the government’s abrupt lockdown of public housing towers.
Referring to the premier’s promise that nobody would “go without,” Hibbins pointed to examples of residents who were forced to deal with a lack of food and crucial medical supplies like insulin.
Andrews said by locking down the towers, he was following the health advice of his chief health officer. The decision was delivered at a mid-afternoon press conference, and Andrews said he’d been told by the chief health officer that morning that there was no alternative.
“Was every element of that response perfect? Of course it wasn’t. Nor could it have been,” the premier conceded.
“The ultimate vulnerability was not whether somebody got fed within five hours … the ultimate vulnerability was this thing infecting everybody in these towers and hundreds of people dying.”
Elimination not the end game
“The endpoint is to get case numbers to a low case number so that we can manage those cases and inevitable outbreaks,” Andrews said, in response to Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick.
Andrews also confirmed the state was “not pursuing a strategy where we eliminate this virus”.
Limbrick asked how the government could know they weren’t harming more lives through keeping the state in lockdown.
“Some countries have gone for a herd immunity approach. That hasn’t lasted very long … [and] all that produces is tragedy,” Andrews said.
“When you have mass transmission, and you have not hundreds of cases a day but many thousands, and you will finish up with a fatality right that is exponentially higher than the terrible tragedy that we’re dealing with.”