Victorian Political Dystopia is a spin-off article series based on our Victorian Crime Dystopia article series. In this new series, we explore how throughout 2020 Andrews Government’s coronavirus response and strict lockdowns have created a dystopian political environment in the state and endangered democracy.
Below is the latest in the series and focuses on the very slow and hindered discovering by the media about how Victoria’s second wave was caused and how it was people power persistence that is beginning to get answers.
A defining theory of Public choice economics is that of the rationally ignorant voter. In a nutshell, this theory argues that voters are too busy living their lives, providing for their families to make a properly informed vote at elections every few years. This is how bad governments get away with bad policies and still get re-election.
One could argue that rationally ignorant voters gave Dan Andrews his 2018 landslide re-election victory. Voters would not have had the 2014 Labor red shirt rorts, East-West Link cancellation 1.5 billion on their minds at the last state election. They probably saw the level crossings be removed in their local suburb, liked the proposed suburban rail loop and voted for Labor on the basis they wanted more of that.
Not on the ballot at the 2018 state election was that in 2020 Dan would use emergency and disaster powers to shut down the Victorian economy, keep Victorians under house arrest under the threats of massive fines through draconian enforcement of Victoria Police. But that’s where Victorians no matter which way they voted in 2018 found themselves in during 2020.
The Police State House Arrest Lockdown
Melburnians have been finally been released from their house arrest no longer confined to their homes for most of the day, subjected to a curfew. But they are still separated from Regional Victorians, only allowed within a 25km radius of their homes and still forced to wear masks
Although more people can now get back to work many have lost their jobs and/or businesses permanently as a result of both Melbourne lockdowns. The first from late March to mid-May lasting 43 days and the second lockdown lasting for 112 days.
Being subjected to a lockdown and house arrest longer than Wuhan in Communist China where the coronavirus was born has given Melbournians and also Regional Victorians plenty of thinking time to research how this state of decadence unfolded and what they should do to make sure it never happens again.
The Andrews Government has always been good at spin but poor at actual governance. It has always been the Dictator Dan show with traditional Westminster Cabinet Government replaced with centralised decision making in the Premier’s office and department. This style of government worked okay during normal times but has fallen apart when managing and containing a global pandemic.
During the first wave of coronavirus Victoria Police issued the most fines out of any jurisdiction in Australia and the dollar amount of the fines $1652 was the highest in Australia as well. Yet Victoria was the only jurisdiction in Australia to have a second wave which was much more deadly than the first.
The Lead Up to the Longest Lockdown
When the second wave began unleashing its destruction in mid-June the Melbourne press pack first egged on Dan to tighten restrictions in semi-open Victoria, then to impose the stage 3 Melbourne lockdown, then to mandate face coverings, and then to implement the unprecedented stage 4 lockdown which Melbournains are largely still living under.
The powers to make Dan a dictator and decree extreme changes to our daily lives enforced through a police state were all existing laws that had been passed by previous parliaments.
The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 State of Emergency powers have been utilized by Dan for the stage 3 lockdowns with the lockdown directives signed by his Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton.
When Dan turned the second stage 3 lockdown on July 9 into a stage 4 lockdown he added the State of Disaster Powers under Emergency Management Act. This gave his government the powers to suspend legislation if they interfered with the lockdown, and Victoria Police to enter homes without a warrant.
Questions Are Finally Asked
The second wave in Victoria wasn’t caused by so-called Covidiots or just down to bad luck. 99% of the second wave cases can be genomically tested back to hotel quarantine breaches at the Rydges Hotel on Swanston Street which was manned by private security guards, not Victoria Police or Australian Defence Force personnel.
Once this truth was being told by too many authoritative sources within the government along with media reports about the repeated breaches of infection control at hotel quarantine Dan Andrews announced he was forming an independent board of inquiry to investigative how the breaches occurred and who was ultimately responsible.
It wasn’t under the full force of the stage lockdown, with the curfew, 5km travel radius limit and additional business shutdowns with more people losing their jobs and increased isolation were questions asked by the media about why was this situation so?
Proper questions were finally asked to Dan at his daily press conference about why we were in this second wave, who made the call to use private security guards at hotel quarantine, why is our contact tracing system so poor, are ALL of the lockdown based on medical advice or just arbitrary decisions?
It has only been the female journalists with the backing of their News Corp employers who had the courage to ask Dan questions he didn’t want to answer. These brave female journalists are Rachel Baxendale, Alex White, Sophie Elsworth, and Gabriella Power.
The Hotel Quarantine Six Million Dollar Question
The Board of Inquiry into the hotel quarantine program chaired by former Family Court Judge Jennifer Coate has no powers to compel witnesses, subpoena documents nor was there any penalty for lying to the inquiry. It was delayed when stage 4 restrictions were imposed and a new reporting date was set for November 6.
All of the senior government ministers and senior bureaucrats told the inquiry in their submissions and testimony they do not know who made the fateful decision to use private security firm Unified Security for Melbourne’s Hotel Quarantine program costing the taxpayers of Victoria $30 million.
Jenny Mikakos resigned after Dan’s testimony at Hotel Quarantine Inquiry for claiming she was ultimately responsible for the program. She resigned not because what Dan said was true but that he threw under the political bus to save himself.
Following Mikakos’ resignation, the Inquiry appeared that it was on track to conclude it couldn’t find how made the decision to use private security guards. That was until Sky News host and Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin started turning up Dan’s daily pressers beginning October 9.
Peta asked Dan if phone records could be provided to the Inquiry to determine why former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton on March 27 at 1.16pm didn’t know who would be guarding hotel quarantine, then knew at 1.22pm it would be private security.
Dan told Peta he would provide phone records if they were requested by the Inquiry. The inquiry was then shamed into asking for them, the records revealed it was the Secretary of Department of Premier and Cabinet Chris Eccles who called Graham Ashton at 1.19pm on March 27. Eccles resigned on Monday 12 as soon as the phone records were released.
Since the Inquiry’s lack of investigation was exposed by Peta Credlin last Tuesday they held an extraordinary hearing where they announced they were seeking an affidavit from Brett Sutton after emails released from DHHS which showed that he had lied to the inquiry in his written and verbal evidence.
Brett Sutton claimed he did not know that private security was being used in hotel quarantine until it was reported in the media. The emails that have finally been released show that was not true and Sutton even tried to instruct DHHS lawyers to withhold such emails. The DHHS lawyers have now been referred to the Legal Services Commissioner over their failure to produce such emails
The total cost of the inquiry has blown out to $6 million, double the initial $3 million allocated. With the inquiry now under renewed pressure to gather more documents and recall witnesses so it can make some sort of definite finding out who agreed to the contracts with Unified Security it comes as no surprise today that reporting date has been extended to December 21. An interim report will still be delivered on November 6.
Dan, his office and other government ministers will be hoping by December 21 as Victorians are thinking about enjoying a covid normal Christmas that the report won’t attract as much attention and scrutiny than if it was delivered on November 6.
Victorians Will Remember 2020
But Victorians will never forget 2020, especially the second wave and lockdown. While Christmas may be covid normal Victorians have missed out on a normal Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grand Final Day. This year’s Cup weekend and Halloween festivities will be severely restricted.
Peta Credlin to singlehandedly steered the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry away from a brick wall dead end will be airing a special Deadly Decision documentary on Sky News Sunday, November 1st where she will be interviewing those who lost loved ones during the second wave and whose businesses have been crippled.
Victorians will also never forget that Dan tried to expand his police state powers further and for longer. Dan initially proposed a state of emergency extension for an extra 12 months via amending the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. That was wound back by the state’s Upper House the Legislative Council to a one-off covid six-month extension.
Victorians will also remember that Dan with his recent Covid Omnibus Emergency Measures Bill attempted to pass a preventative dentition clause which would allow his government to appoint anyone an authorized officer with powers to detain any Victorian indenfitely if they believed they were either a risk of spread covid or not complying with health directives.
Rise of the New Community Activists
The three crossbenchers who passed the amended versions of Dan’s State of Emergency Extension and Covid Omnibus Bill Fiona Patten of the Reason Party, Samantha Ratnam of the Greens and Andy Meddick of the Animal Justice Party have claimed credit for these bills being amended so that they better comply with civil liberties and limit government power.
But the true credit for the watering down of Dan’s extension of his power should go to the new community activists who have emerged during the second lockdown. The most high profile community activist group to rise up has been Reignite Democracy Australia who has been driving the Omnibus Let Us Out SackAndrews bus around Melbourne.
The bus has been followed by Victorian Police officers wherever it has travelled and was even issued with a defective notice at the latest Freedom Day rally at the Shrine of Remembrance on Grand Final Eve.
Victoria Forward run by 19-year old young Conservative Edward Bourke has gained traction on social media during the second lockdown. It organised the covid compliant virtual protest against the lockdown: Give Dan the Boot on September 13 where Victorians put their boots outside their front door and posted boot photos to social media to show their participation.
Another new activist group Concerned Citizens of Victoria flew a plane with a Sack Dan Andrews Scrap Omnibus banner around Melbourne on October 10th.
Although Melbourne’s lockdown is over severe restrictions on Victorian’s freedoms still remain. The reason why these restrictions still remain and state borders are still closed to Victorians is because not many still have faith in Victoria’s contact tracing team. The paper, pencil and fax machine contact tracing team that Victoria previously had confounded the spread of the virus during the second wave once it escaped hotel quarantine.
Victoria now has a team of 2600 contact tracers led by former Public Transport bureaucrat Jerome Weimar. They now use a digitised contact tracing system that has been used in New South Wales which has allowed that state to continually suppress the virus without any further shutdowns.
An aspect of the private security contracts for Hotel Quarantine that Peta Credlin has focused is why was Unified Security awarded the contract without a proper tender process and wasn’t even on the government’s own preferred tender list and why did the awarding of the contract go outside the proper procurement process?
This irregularity in the procurement process for the hotel quarantine security contracts is looking to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to government contracts if this week’s Independent Broad cased Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) public hearings are anything to go by.
V/Line chief executive James Pinder has been sacked this week after IBAC hearings uncovered he and Metro Trains Manager Peter Bollas had taken up to $150,000 in corrupt cash payments from Transclean who they had contracted to clean Victorian trains. It has also been uncovered today that trains were not cleaned in CovidSafe ways during 2020.
While Dan Andrews remains Premier, for now, the economic and mental scars from the lockdown along with closer scrutiny on his government’s incompetence and continued investigations into various coverups and corrupt conduct in the Victorian Government apparatus will see his spin and evasiveness unravel.