“I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I know nothing.” This is the recurring theme that has been the hallmark of the Coate inquiry into the Covid–19 Victorian hotel quarantine failures.
Every senior responsible bureaucrat, Minister and the Premier himself has said, under oath, that they have no idea who or how the decision was made to use private security firms to manage the hotel quarantine. Yet this ‘nothing’ decision resulted in the Victorian Covid–19 outbreak and some 765 deaths to date.
Given that everyone knows ‘nothing’, this ‘nothing’ needs an explanation.
I explained ‘nothing’ in the Spectator Australia on 13 August. We have now written to the Coate inquiry submitting that the inquiry investigate our explanation of ‘nothing’ specifically to investigate the role of the Victorian Trades Hall Council in the decision to use private security companies.
In the Melbourne business community it is well understood that if you wish to do business with or near the government, you must have ‘cosy’ relationships with the appropriate unions. This involves union-controlled agreements, membership, payments to union superannuation and other funds, and so on. It’s all perfectly legal on the surface.
However, this flow of business money to unions then funds the Labor Party’s election machine. Every Labor member of Parliament relies directly or indirectly on this money flow for his or her job. Every senior bureaucrat is under the control of this money web whether they are actually aware of it or not.
The consequence is that all major contract decisions by the Victorian government are overseen or controlled by the union officials who control this money deal-making.
If hard evidence can be extracted, it’s likely to prove that the decision to use private security guards was made by, and in or around, the union power brokers of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, THC. There are snippets of evidence revealed by the Coate inquiry lawyers that point to this conclusion.
Evidence is that the hotel quarantine costs were budgeted at around $80 million. It can be envisaged that THC union controllers blocked the use of police and the ADF, redirecting the work to private security firms who had ‘appropriate’ relationships with unions. One could imagine THC operatives salivating at the calculation of the income flowing into their coffers from this move.
This would explain much. It would explain why security staff were employed on low wages, not properly trained, denied protective clothing and not properly supervised or supported. THC unions had to get their dollar ‘cut’, thus reducing the money available to do the quarantine work safely. It would also explain why repeated warnings of quarantine breaches were ignored for some three months from March.
For the many top bureaucrats and politicians who have attested under oath before Coate that they ‘know nothing’ there are three possible explanations.
First, they genuinely know nothing about the decision to use private security firms. Those in this category are surely either naïve or hopelessly incompetent and should be sacked.
Second, they suspected something was wrong but chose to turn a blind eye, to be busy doing something else. Those in this category are guilty of complicity. They should be sacked and likely charged.
Third, they are the masterminds of a cunning conspiracy. They knew everything. They controlled and manipulated a system of compliance with, and silence about, the security guard decision being made by THC union operatives. Long jail terms apply to findings of conspiracy.
The totality of ‘know nothing’ responses to the Coate inquiry makes it impossible, at this stage, to assess who fits into which category. But remember that each of the Coate respondents are from the top, highly paid levels of Victorian government operations. These are not junior underlings. They are people who are paid to ‘know’.
The Coate Inquiry has not produced conclusions for the quarantine failures so far. But it has established some strong pointers. The truth will only be revealed if the Inquiry digs deeply into the role of, and decisions made by, Trades Hall Council and related operatives.
The Coate Board of Inquiry has the ability to do this. For example, the sixth term of reference allows the Inquiry to investigate “any other matters necessary to satisfactorily resolve the matters.”
The Inquiry should interview, under oath, a wide number of THC union–related officials. The inquiry needs to investigate the personal, contractual and money flow relationships between unions and the security firms. It also needs to scrutinise the relationships between union officials, government ministers, senior bureaucrats and the decision–making influence of union officials over the Victorian government at multiple levels.
So far, the Coate inquiry has been hugely impressive in its research, its penetrating questioning and its transparent search for truth. For the sake of the truth, it needs to take this next step of investigating the key missing piece of this government decision-making jigsaw.
Ken Phillips is the Executive Director of Self Employed Australia.
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