Why is it that Victorians, perhaps more specifically Melburnians, are having such a bad time with Covid in comparison to the other states? Why is this fourth lockdown occurring?
Already Victorians have suffered some 160 days in lockdown over about the last 450 days. That’s 45 per cent of days spent in lockdown since March last year. Eight hundred and one of the 910 tragic Covid deaths across Australia — 88 per cent — have been in Victoria.
Are Victorians jinxed? Is there a curse over the state? Or is there something more practical and understandable that gives insight into Victoria’s plight?
In August last year, before the Victorian Coate Inquiry into the failed quarantine program, I offered an explanation for Spectator readers. The sad fact is that Victoria has become a corrupt state where the normal processes of a professional public service have been rorted. Melbourne, in particular, is run by a new ‘Establishment’.
It’s a wide network involving select businesses, unions and Labor operatives who have developed a self-perpetuating business-political money circle to control the state. It’s at its most sophisticated in the construction sector but its reach is wider than that.
It’s this corrupted network that is the root cause of the Covid pandemic mismanagement that’s led to the deaths and lockdowns.
At the centre is the corruption of the tendering and contracting processes within the state public sector. Proper process is supposed to keep the public service officers “at arm’s-length” from the bidders. It’s corrupted when the public servants ‘know’ beforehand who is really going to win a tender or a contract. Or, more plainly, when a contractor is imposed upon them.
This is what happened with the mismanagement of the initial hotel quarantine program. During the Coate Inquiry, evidence emerged of desperate quarantine bureaucrats complaining to each other about having to use a particular labour hire company to supply workers. They said that the company was a mess to deal with but they had to use the company ‘because of Trades’. ‘Trades’ is code for union HQ at Trades Hall Council.
In effect, the normal government tendering processes for using labour hire were corrupted. Unions were calling the shots to the public servants as to which companies they had to use. The chatty, email complaints occurred before Covid broke out of the hotel quarantine sites.
What can be assumed from experience is that that some unions had corrupt financial arrangements to receive kickbacks from the labour supply companies. That the Coate Inquiry did not investigate this line of inquiry could cause some to believe that the Inquiry was a cover-up.
I’m quite used to observing this corrupt process within Victorian construction. It’s kickback heaven, highly developed and sophisticated. Much of the kickbacks is paid ‘legitimately’ to union ‘redundancy’ funds and so on. The consequence for construction is much higher costs.
What surprised me was (and is) the clear pointers to corrupt tendering processes occurring in the Health Department. But unlike construction, the consequences in health are a health crisis and deaths.
What was witnessed in the hotel quarantine program was the neutering of the professional public servants. This resulted in a near-complete breakdown in control systems, accountability and transparency.
In fact the evidence is of a quarantine program mismanagement process that was of Alice in Wonderland dimensions. This created a wide opening through which the Covid virus wreaked havoc.
This wasn’t the fault of the front-line health workers. They were operating under a dysfunctional management system, itself the result of a corrupted ‘Establishment’ system. The failure was so huge that lockdown became the only option to suppress Covid.
A further corruption worry is that the Victorian WorkSafe Authority should have moved in early to investigate and prosecute for breaches of work safety laws. WorkSafe moves super-fast against private businesses that breach these laws. The laws have clear application to the hotel quarantine program as each location is a designated ‘work site’. WorkSafe has unlimited investigative power and undertakes prosecutions.
Prosecutions are not about revenge, certainly not in this instance. They are about throwing clear light on management failures to push through immediate corrections. WorkSafe claims that it is investigating, but only started doing so some five months after the crisis began. No prosecutions have started. The worry is that WorkSafe is covering up. In other words, to prosecute would risk exposing deep corrupt secrets of the Victorian Establishment.
We believe that around February this year WorkSafe did take some behind-the-scenes action. It ‘raided’ Quarantine HQ. A flurry of panicked activity was detected at HQ. Incredibly, HQ had never issued an operations manual to the hotels. Each hotel did its own ‘thing’ from all reports. Why no manual? Simple. If the senior managers issued a manual, they could be held liable if things went wrong. No manual, no evidence, no blame.
After WorkSafe’s activity, a manual appeared. It’s kept a tight secret but think on this: ‘Infection control’ appears as number 11 in the contents. Number 10 is ‘media management’. So here’s another problem with corrupted management. Media management, to cover up the problems, has higher priority than managing the virus.
In this fourth Victorian lockdown hotel quarantine doesn’t seem to be the problem, at this stage. This time it’s the overwhelming of contact tracing that’s the issue.
However, when it’s revealed that the GM of Victorian infection control was caught refusing to comply with his own orders when entering hotels, it’s clear that there’s a deep problem within the Health Department. That’s not to suggest that the GM is ’corrupt’ but the behaviour is gobsmacking.
On current evidence the mess being made of Covid management in Victoria is set to continue. At the core of the reason for this is the refusal of the Victorian government to confront its problems. The Victorian WorkSafe Authority has the power to act. Prosecutions will force change.
On 29 September 2020, we, Self-Employed Australia, wrote to WorkSafe triggering legal provisions which required WorkSafe to Act. Under the law, WorkSafe must reply to us by 29 June 2021. If WorkSafe fail to prosecute, we can and will refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Ken Phillips is Executive Director Self-Employed Australia.
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