With only weeks to go before the final Coate Inquiry report into Victoria’s shameful hotel quarantine fiasco is released, things are starting to get very interesting.
As public hearings into the program, which led to the deaths of over 800 elderly people are now concluded, three key matters have become clear to those voters interested in truth:
- The government is working feverishly to retrofit respectability to a scheme manifestly wrong and discredited;
- The saga has laid bare fault-lines of mistrust running deep within and across the political and administrative levels of Victorian state administration (including the police and other agencies) and between the state and the Commonwealth;
- Victorian Ministers are continuing to duck and weave their way through the mess of who said what to whom and when.
What is true in this political saga is that the taxpayer-funded Spring Street propaganda unit has been in hyper-drive trying to heave public opinion in one direction and public attention in another to distract from the Coate Inquiry. Victoria’s multi-billion dollar spending-spree state budget certainly assisted in the distraction task. The Premier’s raw tactics are there for all to see.
It is Daniel Andrews who stands astride the machinery of government failures and it is Andrews who is orchestrating every move in preparation for the delayed release of the report by The Hon Jennifer Coate on 21 December. Every choreographed step is designed to protect Andrews and those who remain loyal to him.
Talk about laying the groundwork. A ruthless and shrewd political operator, Andrews has moved to rid his administration of ‘problematic’ actors in the saga (with three senior departures in as many months) and to reshape his machinery of government to demonstrate not that he is doing what he knows to be right, but that he is ‘ahead of the game’ in order to save some political furniture and, of course, his reputation.
Sackings aside, the abrupt decision to carve into two the Department at the centre of the scandal — the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) — is the prime example of the brutal and pragmatic transactional nature of Andrews leadership.
With blinding realisation, Andrews it seems, now accepts that the creation of the mega DHHS (by his government) was a bureaucratic calamity with its (now sacked) secretary unable to control the currents and pressures of 12,000 public servants.
But that’s not all. With this government, there’s always more. Minister for Police & Emergency Services Lisa Neville was more than obliging in hurling blame for the private security decision in the direction of DHHS. Not much trust between Neville and departed health minister Mikakos or also gone DHHS Secretary Kym Peake, it seems.
Neville reckons she “never had opportunity to push back” on private security use at hotels and other Ministers too have been happy enough to peddle this line.
Jobs Minister Martin Pakula was also out defending himself saying he wasn’t opposed to the use of ADF assistance in the quarantine program — but the decision not to wasn’t made by him.
Small problem here. Cabinet government just doesn’t work like that. All Ministers would have had ample opportunity to express their views and there aren’t too many wall-flowers around this Cabinet table. Whether they were actually listened to is something only Andrew’s can answer – but the ‘opportunity’ was certainly there.
No one buys the ludicrous ‘memory loss‘ routine by those in Spring Street and everyone knows that this absurd piece of theatre was designed to conceal the truth about who did make the fateful decision. It backfired and the Coate Inquiry final report will soon (hopefully) demonstrate by just how much it backfired.
It scarcely needs to be recorded, but trust between Andrews and the federal government is non-existent. The Victorian Premier actually isn’t Australia’s prime minister but no-one in his sad, diminished Cabinet will tell him.
After Andrews’ stubborn and determined rejection of ADF (read Commonwealth Government) assistance and his arrogant and dismissive remarks about the Prime Minister, trust between the two governments has all but vanished.
In fact, trust remains in very short supply wherever you look in Victoria. No matter how much feverish ‘house keeping’ Andrews does before the Coate report is made public there are plenty of good people willing to attest to the person the Premier really is.
Voters should have every confidence, in time, they will do just that.
This story is not finished.
John Simpson is a Melbourne company director.
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