The Spectator Australia has always prided itself on being first with the news. However, there is one publishing milestone we have striven mightily to achieve but never attained — that is, until today. For we have now won the Holy Grail of journalism; to report a major event before it has occurred. We are therefore able to report the findings of the inquiry into the extraordinary breach of quarantine security at several Melbourne hotels that led to the escape of Covid-19 into the community and the resulting infection and death of hundreds of innocent victims. The report of the inquiry has not yet been written, but we can tell you now what it will say.
‘CONCLUSION: The evidence shows that the arrangements made for the quarantining of infected travellers at hotels were not perfect and there was definitely scope for improvement. True, the guards should have had better uniforms to give them some sort of authority in the milieu in which they were to work, as some quarantined travellers clearly thought that just because they had had a week at a third-rate hotel in Bali, they could lord it over everyone else at one of marvellous Melbourne’s prestige establishments. Room service could also have been vastly improved. But those arrangements, too, however you criticise them, should be seen in context. It is also true that the venues were supposed to be sterile and that a child could see that, with the slightest breach, the infection would escape and wreak havoc. But that is a conclusion reached with the benefit of hindsight and is therefore of limited value. If the critics of the arrangements had been on the spot, they would have reached the same conclusion as the government, that a guard who worked part-time at one of Melbourne’s renowned and spotless abattoirs, a warehouse and delivering meals for Uber Eats was just as likely to have a good sense of hygiene as anyone else. In any event, some of those same abattoirs had made substantial donations to the Labor party, showing that they had a real stake in a multicultural and progressive society.
It is also true that the government decided that as this was a matter of public health, officials from the health department were entirely unsuited to the job in hand. We soundly endorse the view of the government in that regard and believe that we should give credit where it is due. As was wisely submitted by counsel for the government, if the idea got a foothold that public employees should have some competence in the job at hand or any knowledge or experience of what it entailed, it would strike at the very foundations of public administration. The Inquiry therefore endorses the view that the government was right to eschew the elitist notion that preventing contamination was best left in the hands of those who knew something about it.
We also reject the notion that there was something wrong in the security firms engaged in this important work subcontracting it out and undercutting the wages of the sub-sub-subcontractors. The community is continually being lectured on the virtues of reforming the industrial relations system by making it more flexible; yet here, when a good example of flexibility emerges in the real world, the carping critics like those in certain right-wing think tanks, mindlessly reject it.
Criticism has even been addressed at the decision to employ private security guards at all. That again shows how ignorant the critics are. After all, the experience of watching people stealing chocolate bars in Coles, of throwing patrons out of nightclubs and of collecting debts from drug dealers is quite analogous to maintaining public health security.
There was also criticism that guards were sleeping with the hotel guests and cavorting with them at parties. However, the Inquiry had these proclivities examined by the Grattan Institute and finds that the allegation is a gross exaggeration, as not every guard was sleeping with every hotel guest all the time and they frequently had to work overlapping shifts at the aforesaid renowned and spotless abattoirs. The evidence is that if any of them were sleeping, they were literally asleep. Some fraternisation probably occurred, but we must all contribute to the revival of the tourist industry and build on Melbourne’s renown for letting its hair down and having parties. It is also mean-spirited to criticise guards for wandering from room to room without masks when they were only trying to make new arrivals feel welcome and not scare them.
The training given to the guards has also been criticised by some conservative bigots. That criticism is also exaggerated, as most of them received no training. It is also said that they were given in-depth training in diversity. The Committee confesses proudly that, yes, the guards had training in diversity, but they also had training in equity, inclusiveness, Islamic human rights, fighting ableism, putting transgendered guests at their ease, ensuring that black lives matter and how to dob in a war criminal to the Age. In any event, many of the guests in quarantine came from overseas and it was vital that they had this valuable introduction to the few remaining growth industries in Australia.
So, the security breaches, contaminations and deaths were unfortunate. But with those exceptions, the program worked well. Finally, we come to the question of which ministers and public servants were responsible, but we have no hesitation in saying that the last thing we need is to start playing the blame game. True, the premier and his ministers did not know if their departments were involved or not, but they were very busy people. The easy decision for the Inquiry would be to blame them; the hard decision is not to blame them or anyone else. We therefore end with a robust conclusion of the sort rarely found by committees of inquiry, that no one was responsible and no one should be censured, but this must never happen again.”
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