When justifying the most recent hard Victorian lockdown that started on August 6, 2021, Premier Dan Andrews told the enquiring media pack at an October press conference that this was “what I was sent to do…”
Perhaps the Premier was invoking the spirit of the greatest of Greek gods, Zeus, considered the ruler, protector and father of all gods and humans. Premier Andrews explained further that he was ‘keeping people safe’.
‘Safety’, however, is perhaps a matter of perception and degree.
In mid-September the Premier distributed modelling from the Burnet Institute which predicted the spread of Covid-19 and its impact on hospitals over the lockdown period. The Burnet predictions can be measured against what actually occurred.
The Burnet Institute predicted that the number of infections would peak at 4,543 per day. To date, the actual peak is 2,297. Hospital demand was predicted to peak at 3,150 per day. The actual peak, so far, is 851. And ICU demand was predicted to peak at 706 per day. The actual peak, so far, is 163. (See page 7, Table 4, of the Burnet document. Actual daily figures are available here.)
What this actual-to-prediction comparison perhaps demonstrates is that the Victorian government’s policies of ‘keeping people safe’ during Covid display a disjunction between academic imaginings and the facts. Further, that much of the government’s harsh and aggressive treatment of Victorians to ‘create safety’ has done the reverse.
Keeping who safe from what and at what cost is always a vexed question. Who can forget that famous line from the Vietnam war: ‘it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.’ Many Melburnians, now the global capital of Covid lockdowns, would perhaps feel that Melbourne and the lives of the people in the city were ‘destroyed’ in order to ‘save’ them.
Now, however, there is a new phase. Victoria is allegedly opening up. But in doing so the Premier is introducing new legislation that will give him, the Premier, the ability to declare a new state of emergency at any time. The image of all-powerful Zeus becomes stronger.
The new law would provide for two-year jail terms for breaching health orders. This is on top of mandated vaccinations for huge numbers of workers that has pushed many into joblessness. This ‘safe’ theme includes fines in excess of $100,000 for shopkeepers and restaurants that have (knowingly or unknowingly) unvaccinated people on their premises. This is supposed to be administered through vaccine passports.
But such passports are to be abolished in NSW as of December 1, and the Prime Minister has called on Premier Andrews to do the same.
The situation has morphed into a rapidly shifting environment with a high degree of confusion on many levels. It’s hard to know what ‘safe’ might mean. What is it that people are being kept safe from?
But in the midst of this confusion there is one fact that is clearly known. The Victorian government itself, with the Premier in charge, failed to keep Victorians safe when Covid-19 first arrived in town. The disaster that was the hotel quarantine program of 2020 resulted in 801 deaths.
The Coate report into the disaster laid out the evidence warranting prosecution of the government, the Premier, Ministers and senior officials for breaches of work safety laws. This is a major ‘safety’ issue.
The Victorian WorkSafe Authority is an investigator and prosecutor under work safety laws. On Wednesday 29 September, WorkSafe announced that it will be prosecuting the Department of Health (but not responsible individuals).
September 29, 2021, was one year to the day that Self-Employed Australia sent our 131 application; the legal trigger that required WorkSafe to investigate with a view to prosecuting. The prosecution of Health totally validates our campaign, demonstrating the correctness of both the issue and our pressure activity.
Last Friday, 22 October, was the first Court hearing, a procedural matter where the date was set for the start of the serious legal process to begin on 10 March 2022. There is speculation that Health may plead guilty and pay a ‘round robin’ fine – that is, the government fines itself which means (effectively) no fine.
SEA’s campaign is now focused on pushing strongly for prosecution of the responsible individuals – that is, the Premier, Minister and government officials. This doesn’t mean that we say they are guilty, but rather that the evidence requires prosecution. I explained this in a 3AW radio interview (6 minutes) on 22 October. (Audio of the interview available here.)
Following the Health prosecution announcement, SEA has relaunched our TV advert on social media. See the refocused ad here. This is being supported by a hard-hitting on-line social media campaign (on Facebook and Google).
A new radio advert is running this week on Melbourne 3AW, 7am to 10am, with several repeats in each time slot. (Audio of the advert available here.)
To date, we’ve had a big impact without needing to resort to court action. There have been 38 pieces of correspondence between Self-Employed Australia and WorkSafe over the last year. In addition, during September, we wrote to the Attorney-General, Shadow Attorney-General, WorkSafe Minister, Shadow WorkSafe Minister, Ombudsman and the Solicitor-General. There has been careful legal guidance at every step. See information here.
We anticipate news about next steps in the near future.
The Victorian Premier is right. Governments must keep people safe. But when government itself behaves to make people unsafe, government must be accountable. Otherwise ‘safety’ means nothing.
Ken Phillips is Executive Director of Self-Employed Australia.
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