Matter of Public Importance Speech - Covid-19

October 6, 2021

I rise to support the matter of public importance submitted by the member for Caulfield:

That this house condemns the Andrews Labor government’s COVID-19 failures resulting in Melbourne being the most locked down city in the world.

You know, no-one from this government has ever explained this paradox: the most locked down city in the world, the most locked down jurisdiction in Australia, yet the worst COVID results and indeed performance of any jurisdiction in this nation, the worst COVID outcome, the most deaths by a mile, the longest lockdowns, a mental health crisis, thousands of people losing their jobs. Of course Labor will say it is a global pandemic. Indeed it is a global pandemic that has caused untold misery around the world, yet there is one slight problem with Labor’s logic with regard to, ‘Oh, it’s a global pandemic’. This continent is also an island, and this island had its international borders closed off at a very, very early opportunity by the federal government last March.

112 days of Melbourne’s lockdown, Victoria’s lockdown, can be attributed to the second wave of COVID, which was directly caused by a state government failure, that failure being the greatest public administration disaster in this nation’s history—that is, the hotel quarantine catastrophe that cost the lives of 801 Victorians because of the incompetence, the negligence, the malfeasance and indeed the arrogance of the Andrews Labor government and that not one minister, not the Premier, not one of them, has ever taken responsibility for. It is an utter disgrace that not one member on that side of the chamber has ever once accepted responsibility for the greatest peacetime disaster in this nation’s history. The Premier of New South Wales resigned last week because she is under investigation by their anti-corruption commission. The Premier of Victoria presided over 801 people losing their lives, and he is still here. He is still here, he still misleading the public, he is still misleading the Parliament. It is totally unacceptable. In fact it is a disgrace. It is a disgrace because, lo and behold, our Premier is now under investigation by our Victorian anti-corruption commission.

Mr Wakeling: Good for the goose!

Mr T SMITH: Good for the gander—indeed, member for Ferntree Gully. So why is he still in office? Why has he at the very least not stood down? The former Premier of New South Wales has something called ticker. The former Premier of New South Wales has something called honesty. She has integrity. She made a rule for her ministers that if you are under investigation by ICAC, well, you have to stand aside. In the middle of a global pandemic the Premier of New South Wales could not simply stand aside; she had to resign—which is a great shame, because she led her state with distinction, unlike the catastrophe, the debacle, the shambles no less that has gone on down here.

Every single thing that this Labor government has tried to do has resulted in debacle, whether it is hotel quarantine, whether it is locking down early—because, you know, going hard and fast really works, and then yesterday Victoria had almost three times the number of COVID cases as New South Wales. I have seen a number of excuses for this from the government, from the broad left—whether that be in the media, the bureaucracy, the health establishment—like the weather, Melbourne’s public transport system, the geography of Sydney versus Melbourne. Just utter rubbish. Rubbish. Complete nonsense. The reason why Victoria’s response to this debacle has been so poor compared with that in each and every other jurisdiction in this nation can be attributed to the fact that our health department—indeed our public health team—was the worst resourced in the nation when this thing started.

Next point: what about our contact-tracing team? We were still on fax machines well into the second wave last year—fax machines, sticky notes, whiteboards. We did not digitise our public health team and indeed the contact tracers until after the second wave had finished. We had to get the people down from Sydney to tell us how to do it. I mean, how embarrassing.

I make this observation: Victoria’s health system has been run by the Labor Party for the best part of 20 years. In that 20 years one individual has been the Premier and/or the health minister for 11 of them. Who might that be? The member for Mulgrave. He has run the health system for 11 years, and yet when he is called before former Judge Coate at that rather questionable inquiry, he cannot recall. Despite completely turning the normal processes of cabinet government on their head and insisting that every departmental secretary report directly to him—not to the minister, to him—he still cannot recall who made, for example, the fateful decision to employ untrained private security guards to manage hotel quarantine. Nor can he remember ever having a conversation with the Prime Minister about the offer of the use of the Australian Defence Force, despite the fact that just out there he actually said that it had been offered. I mean, there is no end to the mistruths that this individual will foist upon his colleagues, the Parliament and indeed the people of Victoria.

There is a connection between his inability to take responsibility, his constant mistruths and the response to COVID in Victoria, because innate in this man is an arrogance that always means he has to win the day internally. The public service has been cowered into a sense of subordination to this man and as a consequence our public administration in this state is truly lacking, so much so that people have died because of it—and there is no accountability for those who ultimately are responsible. Only three people lost their jobs because of what happened last year. The former Minister for Health was thrown under a bus, and she has literally said so publicly. Kym Peake fell on her sword, and indeed the former secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet departed I suspect against his will. He took the fall for the government’s failures—unacceptable; unacceptable on every level.

I return to my original theme about accountability. After we had the disastrous second wave last year and the faux Coate inquiry, where not one minister took responsibility or could even recall who made these decisions, WorkSafe, the body charged by this place and the government to investigate occupational health and safety breaches all over Victoria without fear or favour, both public sector and private sector alike, did not prosecute any individual who had control or responsibility over the Department of Health and Human Services last year. It has charged the department itself. So no individual will be brought before a court of law to explain their role in the deaths of 801 people, their role in Victoria having the longest lockdown of any state in Australia or their role in Melbourne being the most locked down city in the world.

What a joke. What a complete farce. A hundred million dollars is going to be transferred from the Department of Health to WorkSafe Victoria if the health department is found guilty of 58 breaches. That is not accountability, that is a fraud on the Victorian people. That is a disgusting fraud on the people of Victoria, on the taxpayers of Victoria. An individual should be charged. An individual should be prosecuted. And you might want to ask why not one individual in this government, either elected or in the bureaucracy, has been charged or prosecuted for OH&S breaches from last year. It is not independent. It is simply an extension of the Labor Party, yet another branch office of the Labor Party stuck there in the public service. The public service is being corrupted in this state, the government is corrupt and the Premier should stand down for the allegation by IBAC today.