Shannon Deery and Jack Paynter, Herald Sun
Premier Daniel Andrews has continued to deflect tough questions about Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine program and its role in creating our second wave of coronavirus cases.
But Mr Andrews was forced to admit initial data, prepared by the Doherty Institute, showed a “significant” number of second wave COVID-19 cases could be linked to the program.
Appearing before the parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) on Tuesday into the state’s coronavirus response, Mr Andrews avoided many questions about the program.
They included why private security was used to patrol hotels and not the Australian Defence Force.
Mr Andrews did say that the use of private security was an extension of services already on the ground and running and that ADF support was not on offer at the time.
Asked if he regrets the decision he responded: “No one wanted a second wave, none of us have the luxury of going back in time.”
Mr Andrews also defended Jobs Minister Martin Pakula, who was singled out for criticism about the program.
Mr Andrews said he would not be calling for Mr Pakula’s resignation and he took full responsibility for the program on his own shoulders.
Under fire from PAEC deputy chair and Liberal MP Richard Riordan, Mr Andrews was also asked how he would take personal responsibility for the most “disastrous economic and social catastrophe in Victorian history”.
Mr Andrews said his sole focus was ensuring Victoria could successfully navigate a path out of the second wave.
Under questioning from Greens MP Sam Hibbins, Mr Andrews defended the government’s handling of a hard lockdown of public housing towers.
In particular, Mr Andrews was quizzed on delays in getting food to residents locked inside their homes.
He said the government was forced to follow the advice of chief health officer Brett Sutton, and urgent action was required. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has been asked about accountability for the hotel quarantine program while testifying in front of Victoria's Public Accounts and Estimates Committee
“Was it perfect, of course not,” Mr Andrews said.
“The ultimate vulnerability here was not whether somebody got fed within five hours or whether they had to wait until the following day to get a bag of groceries.
“The ultimate vulnerability … was this thing infecting everyone in those towers and hundreds of people dying.”
Mr Andrews was appearing before the parliamentary committee to answer questions over his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Victoria’s trouble-plagued hotel quarantine program is tipped be a key focus of the hearing.
Jennifer Coate, who is running an inquiry into the bungled quarantine program, last week gave the all clear for the Premier and other ministers to answer questions over the program, saying there was no risk of prejudice to her inquiry.
Serious failings of the program are believed to have caused Victoria’s deadly second wave.
Mr Andrews appeared at the hearing in May when the state’s number of coronavirus cases was about a sixth of the current total.
At that time 18 Victorians had died, compared with 228 so far.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and his deputy, Allen Cheng are also listed to appear before the committee today.
Other senior public servants will also be called before the committee.
PAEC is made up of five Labor MPs, three Coalition MPs, a Green and a Liberal Democrat.
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said the hearing’s focus should be on looking for answers rather than scoring political points.
“We simply want the answers, we want the truth on behalf of Victorians,” he said.
“We are the only state that is subject to stage four, the only state under curfew, I think Victorians are entitled to answers.”
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