Daniel Andrews has sensationally backed down on his plans to extend Victoria’s state of emergency by 12 months, as top doctors blasted his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis as a ‘slow car crash’.
A state of emergency, which gives police extraordinary powers to search, arrest and detain, was first declared in Victoria on March 16 and is due to expire on September 13 after several extensions.
Mr Andrews wanted to change legislation so it could be extended for a further 12 months but was met with furious backlash from the public, civil rights groups and his political friends and foes.
As a compromise with upper house independents and minor parties, who vowed to vote with the Coalition next week and oppose the proposal, Mr Andrews has offered to accept a six month extension instead of 12.
As a compromise with with upper house independents and minor parties, Mr Andrews has offered to extend the state of emergency for six months instead of 12
A state of emergency, which gives police extraordinary powers to search, arrest and detain, was first declared in Victoria on March 16 and is due to expire on September 13 after several extensions
The premier is also willing to compromise on the terms of the extension and the powers the state of emergency would give police and health authorities, according to The Age.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday directly asked Mr Andrews to reconsider his 12-month extension proposal.
Mr Morrison urged the Victorian premier to seek extensions a monthly or quarterly extensions instead.
The prime minister said it was ‘important to dispel any uncertainty and get clarity’.
‘People are concerned that lockdowns would extend for another 12 months,’ Mr Morrison said in Canberra.
Victoria suffered a sharp rise in deaths with 24 new fatalities, taking the state toll to 462 and national figure to 549
Scott Morrison accepted Mr Andrews’ bid for an extension of emergency powers beyond September, but urged seeking extensions a month or quarter at a time instead
‘I know that the announcement that was made by the premier the other day about that extension of the additional 12 months. I’ve raised our concerns with the premier about that. I did that directly. I know others have. I know Labor figures have.’
Meanwhile, the Australian Medical Association has made a scathing submission to the state parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘The situation in Victoria has deteriorated dramatically. One senior AMA Victoria figure recently stated that it has been like witnessing a “slow car crash”,’ AMA state president Professor Julian Rait wrote.
Victoria registered 149 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, the third straight day of infections below 150
He said the decision to allow the Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne in March was a ‘misstep’ by the Victorian Government.
‘[But] by far the largest problem in the past few months has been Victoria’s mismanagement of its hotel quarantine system,’ Prof Rait wrote.
‘It appears that flaws in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system may be the main driver of the high number of cases of community transmission currently occurring in Victoria.’
Dr Rait wrote ‘a culture of blame and finger pointing is unhelpful’ but said a royal commission into Victoria’s response is necessary.
‘This type of inquiry will be necessary in order to learn and apply lessons learned from this pandemic and build a sustainable and resilient workforce and health system for the future,’ Dr Rait wrote in his submission.
Prime Minsiter Scott Morrison has publicly called out the Andrews Government’s hotel quarantine failures.
‘There have been significant failures there. And that has contributed significantly, overwhelmingly – almost entirely, I’d have to say – to the community outbreak we’ve seen,’ he said.
‘I have no doubt that the Victorian government feels as strongly about this as I do in terms of the impact it has had on the people of Victoria.
‘They are now subject to the most horrendous restrictions that are regrettably necessary, as I said at the time. But … we can’t ignore what has occurred.
AMA state president Professor Julian Rait (right) said the decision to allow the Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne in March was a ‘misstep’ by the Victorian Government
Mr Andrews stressed the proposed extension did not mean stage four restrictions – due to end on September 13 – would be in place for another year
The pandemic sparked a state of emergency on March 16, which is due to expire on September 13 after a maximum six extensions.
Before bowing to pressure to amend his bid for a 12-month extension, Mr Andrews said any ongoing rules would be applied with ‘the lightest touch possible, only what’s necessary and only for so long as it is necessary’.
He said an extended state of emergency allows chief health officer Brett Sutton to issue ‘common-sense’ directions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
These included rules on face masks, mass gatherings and quarantine as well as density limits for businesses and workplaces.
He stressed the proposed extension did not mean stage four restrictions – due to end on September 13 – would be in place for another year.
Former federal Labor leader Bill Shorten said he had received ‘a deluge of emails from concerned constituents’ over Mr Andrews’ plan.
‘It would be handy if he cleared it up … because I think that figure of the 12 months had everyone freaking out,’ he said.
‘I think the explanation is a lot more benign, but probably time for Dan the man to put his explaining skills on display today and just calm the farm.’
Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox said extending the state of emergency would spell the end for thousands of Victorian businesses.
Victoria recorded 149 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, the third straight day of infections below 150.
It comes as the state suffered a sharp rise in deaths with 24 new fatalities, taking the state toll to 462 and national figure to 549.
Of Wednesday’s deaths, 21 are related to aged care.
Victorian authorities believed they ‘had the resources’ to run hotel quarantine without the help of the Australian Defence Force
Authorities in Victoria believed they could run hotel quarantine without the help of the military or police, it has been revealed.
Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp has maintained the Australian Defence Force didn’t offer personnel for the program at a meeting on March 27, nor did he ask for their help.
‘We believed that we had the resources within the state to meet the needs of that particular program,’ he told the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s COVID-19 Inquiry on Wednesday.
Mr Crisp said the decision to use private security guards was made at the same meeting, although talks had already begun with contractors.
‘Work had already been undertaken to plan for hotel quarantine,’ he said, noting the program began the following day.
Authorities in Victoria believed they could run hotel quarantine without the help of the military or police
About 99 per cent of Victoria’s second COVID-19 wave can be traced to three outbreaks at the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels
The inquiry previously heard the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions was responsible for awarding contracts to three security companies: MSS, Unified and Wilson.
When asked if Victoria Police assistance was offered to guard returned travellers Mr Crisp replied: ‘that was not part of the discussion’.
About 99 per cent of Victoria’s second COVID-19 wave can be traced to three outbreaks at the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels.
In late May, when the virus first broke out of the hotels, 19 people in Victoria had died from COVID-19. The state’s death toll is now 462.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said criminal inquiries are underway into security companies engaged for the program.
‘Last week, I was made aware that complaints had been made to the licensing and registration division which govern that area,’ he told the inquiry.
It is unclear which companies are being investigated.