Politics permeate Vic COVID inquiry report

Callum Godde
·3-min read

A Victorian parliamentary committee has produced three reports telling different stories of the state's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Public Accounts and Estimates Committee report into the Andrews government's response to the crisis, tabled in state parliament on Tuesday, has prompted the Liberals and Greens to tack on addendums.

Committee members of both parties have authored minority reports, highlighting the politicisation of the Labor-led inquiry which heard from ministers, government departments and experts over three rounds of public hearings.

"The committee has found that the Victorian government's response to managing the virus and the consequences of the pandemic has been comprehensive," committee chair and Labor MP Lizzie Blandthorn wrote in her foreword.

"It has been relatively successful due to the crucial partnership between government and the community."

The main report acknowledges the 820 coronavirus deaths and 20,351 cases in Victoria as of mid-December, as well as the well-chronicled hotel quarantine program breach that sparked the state's second wave.

But it points to modelling at the time that indicated Victoria could have posted its total infections in one day alone if the government had done nothing.

"Victoria would have faced 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, with over 8000 people being admitted to hospital daily at the peak of the pandemic with no corrective action taken," the report reads.

However, many of its 159 findings and 47 recommendations centre on the COVID-19 fallout from the statewide lockdown rather than its cause.

The report showcases how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted certain groups including the homeless, low socio-economic communities, insecure workers, Aboriginal Victorians, those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, women and young people.

As such, it calls for the state government to develop a future employment strategy for vulnerable cohorts of the workforce and a long-term mental health support program to assist the community's recovery.

The government should also "clearly define and make public the roles and responsibilities of officials" to "ensure clarity, accountability and transparency" in future emergencies.

That includes Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, whose role was not detailed in the health department's COVID-19 pandemic plan.

Another recommendation would drop the benchmark for notifying contacts of a positive case from 48 to 24 hours, in line with the Chief Scientist's National Contact Tracing Review published in November.

The Liberals minority report instead takes the Andrews government to task, rehashing points previously heard in separate inquiries into the state's hotel quarantine and contact tracing systems.

Deputy chair Richard Riordan, a Liberal, said the main report contained "hundreds of pages of government spin" and labelled its version an "attempt to expose".

"This government refuses to be accountable," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Its recommendations primarily focus on the government answering for the second wave, reiterating its longstanding call for Premier Daniel Andrews to stand down.

"The minority calls on the premier to explain to the Victorian public what this actually means, and take responsibility for his government's fatal actions," the Liberal report said.

"This should include considering his own resignation."

Greens committee member Sam Hibbins, meanwhile, used his minority report to call for an independent review into Victoria's newly split health and human services departments.

Mr Hibbins said the pandemic had exposed the departments' "systemic shortcomings", citing failures in hotel quarantine, contact tracing and other areas as cause for a comprehensive review.