Statements on committee reports: Public Accounts and Estimates Committee

Deputy Speaker, can I begin by wishing you a happy St Patrick’s Day and everybody else in the chamber. It is a particularly important day in my electorate of South-West Coast with our Irish heritage. Can I wish the Irish festival good luck in the next couple of weeks, given they had to take a year off last year and are back with force.

But today I am here to speak on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee report, Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. I want to draw your attention to the minority report—61 very important pages in the report. There are some glaring omissions in the majority report, and those are the things I want to talk about today that are highlighted in the minority report.

Firstly, I want to draw your attention to the fact that it has been very, very hard to remember; there was so much that happened in the 12 months just gone. But if you actually look at this report, it has chronologically put down the facts and the quotes from conversations that happened that undeniably demonstrate that there was clear knowledge that hotel quarantine was not going to work because the offer of the Australian Defence Force was not taken up. Let us just go back and have a think about that. There we were in the midst of the pandemic, where Australia called it a pandemic before the World Health Organization did. Our Prime Minister was on the front foot, and what he did next was what we have as our absolute best trump card: he shut the borders. As an island, that has been our advantage in being able to control the pandemic.

But what happened at the national cabinet was that every other state took up the offer of the Australian Defence Force and our Premier came home and did exactly the opposite. This is the part that I think we really need to remember and never, ever not respect this very significant fact, and that is that over 800 people lost their lives. Why did that happen? Why did Victoria have such an incredibly bad result, with hugely more deaths than any other state? There are two reasons. One is the failures of hotel quarantine—not just once, though; many times—and the fact that contact tracing was poor, and it remains poor. Just look around the other states and see for yourself the figures. The virus escaped hotel quarantine and 800-plus people died; their families to this day deserve the truth.

And what we saw in this committee hearing was that the ministers undeniably knew. They spent over $5 million on the Coates inquiry and $7 million to defend the ministers, the Premier, the bureaucrats, so that no-one could be held accountable, and that is not what the Premier is quoted as saying. He said:

It is the pre-eminent committee in our Parliament, and it ought to be given the opportunity to review the performance of the government. I am confident that it will do that without fear or favour.

We did not see that at this inquiry and we did not see that at the Coates inquiry.

You know, in my day, when I was a young girl, we did not swear in our household, and when my mum got really stressed in the city driving when we would come down to visit my grandma she would actually spell the world B-U-M because she was not allowed to say it and neither was I. I am not allowed to say the word L-I-E in this place either, but maybe I can use mum’s technique and spell it, because this is what it is. We know that. We know that the community needs an answer. They need the truth, and the truth is that this government has failed our community. They have failed to keep us safe by allowing hotel quarantine to break down and 800-plus deaths to occur, and they are failing us continuously. You only have to look around at the other states and at the fact that their contact tracing is streamlined. Ours is still a hotchpotch approach.

We just needed to take up the offer that the other states did and we would have had the same results as the other states. We are not in the UK and we are not in the USA. We are here in Australia, and the other states did very, very well. So I ask you this question: what was the motivation of our Premier to not take up the offer of ADF but to use security guards who were untrained in infection control? That is the question I think we need to be asking.

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