The Politics    Monday, September 28, 2020

Mistakes were made

By Nick Feik

Jenny Mikakos resigned as Victorian health minister over the weekend. Image via ABC News

Hotel quarantine failures went deeper than the Victorian health minister

On the final day of hearings for the Victorian inquiry into hotel quarantine, after testimony from more than 50 witnesses, the counsel assisting the inquiry attempted to sum up what had been learnt. Tony Neal QC concluded that no single decision or person caused the failure of the scheme, and that “there was simply not the time to translate a policy into a plan and then realising that plan”. He added, “Bad faith or corruption is not what the evidence shows.” Nevertheless, as counsel assisting Rachel Ellyard told the inquiry, it was “astonishing” that not one senior member of the Victorian government took responsibility – or even claimed to know who was responsible – for the decision to use private security in the quarantine program. 

Jennifer Coate, the former Family Court judge presiding over the hotel quarantine inquiry, will deliver her findings in November, but it seems clear by now that Victoria Police had strongly indicated it didn’t wish for its officers to be frontline enforcers in the quarantine hotels. And the state government didn’t seem to believe that the Australian Defence Force was available to help at the time (or that there was other federal quarantine help). Which left private security.

As Martin McKenzie-Murray points out in the October issue of The Monthly, the private security industry had itself been the subject of an inquiry by the state government, starting in June 2019, after multiple complaints about the unregulated nature of its operations. “Incredibly,” writes McKenzie-Murray, “the very industry that was under state review was the same industry used by the government to principally enforce its hotel quarantine policy.” 

Premier Daniel Andrews landed a large part of the blame for the program’s failures on the shoulders of the health minister, Jenny Mikakos, who promptly resigned, presumably in disgust (and without accepting responsibility for hotel quarantine failures). She must bear some responsibility, but the issues clearly run much deeper than her office.

What has become obvious in recent months is that the running down of the state health department over decades – more so in Victoria than in other states – left it unprepared to deal with a pandemic such as this. The Department of Health and Human Services was incapable of large-scale contact-tracing work. (This was eventually outsourced, out of necessity.) It was also unready for the challenges associated with the lockdown of the nine public housing towers. (A lot of the hard work of coordinating this went to volunteers.) The department had no expertise in setting up quarantine facilities, and one family’s infection was all it took for the virus to spread wildly throughout the city.

News Corp and occasionally the Nine newspapers will try to pin all of the blame on Daniel Andrews because it’s easier to point the finger than admit that you simply won’t have decent public health responses if you keep defunding public services. Oddly, we have yet to hear News Corp calling for more funding for public health.  

It’s also possible to admit that mistakes were made without indulging in idiocies about Dictator Dan or calling for his resignation. Victoria recorded just five new coronavirus cases today, and the massive reduction of infections in just six weeks – rare around the world – hasn’t happened by itself. Despite the mistakes made along the way. 

“Overwhelmingly, Australia’s leading economists want the budget to boost social housing and the JobSeeker unemployment benefit rather than bring forward personal income tax cuts.”

Forty-nine economists responded to a pre-budget survey that asked them to rate 13 options in terms of effectiveness in boosting the economy over the next two years.

“President Trump denied on Sunday that he paid only $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017, telling reporters that a lengthy examination of his tax information by The New York Times was ‘fake news’ and that he paid ‘a lot’ of taxes.”

US President Donald Trump levels another “fake news” accusation at The New York Times, after it obtained Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due.

The new virus hotels
Victoria’s second wave has been attributed to an outbreak of COVID-19 among private contractors working in hotel quarantine, and now government documents reveal more contractors at quarantine hotels have tested positive for the virus.


The proportion of money for this year’s Community Development Grants that has been spent on Labor-held electorates.

“What we would need to be assured of is that when Australia is saying ‘okay we’ve got a hotspot over here’, that the border around that hotspot means that people aren’t able to travel into the states where we are engaging with trans-Tasman travel.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that travel between New Zealand and some states of Australia could be possible before the end of the year if COVID-19 cases continue to decline.

The list

“It’s all working for the prime minister – he’s a self-styled practical dad, an optimist taking care of business. If there are objections or uncomfortable revelations, he doesn’t accept the premise of your question. Next, please. And tomorrow he’ll have another announcement … But there’s a big difference between announcing things and delivering on them.”

“Newspoll tells us that the deeply loathed Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, is not only successful but popular. But how can that be? Isn’t he Dictator Dan, the totalitarian president of the communist state of Danistan? The readers of the Oz have been bombarded with this news for weeks. To them, Andrews is surely the most hated man in Australia, if not the planet.”

“Under the new scheme, the accepted practice of universities taking 40 per cent of teaching time and dedicating it to research activity will no longer be viable … because the government calculation of the cost of course delivery does not account for the allocation of research time in staff costs. But after years of skirmishes and thwarted attempts to overhaul higher education, the Coalition has the academy right where it wants it: ready to bargain for its very existence.”

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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