Dan is done with political sniping

The word “slam” is used from time to time by the media reporting politics. Thus back on 7 September we had Scott Morrison in Coronavirus Australia: Gloves off as Scott Morrison slams Premier Daniel Andrews on road map.

However, if you read the article Morrison is not telling Andrews what to do. So as recently as last Thursday Morrison could credibly stand in Cairns next to Qld LNP leader Deb Frecklington saying that he accepts that state leaders make the decisions on COVID management. It’s just that he’s inclined to refer to ‘Federal standards’ that have not actually been agreed to by the constituent states of the federation.

All the while Victorian federal ministers have indeed slammed Andrews on quite a regular basis for some months.

Andrews has had enough, so we had Premier Daniel Andrews lashes Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt for ‘insulting’ Victorians in tweet and ‘JUST WRONG’: Daniel Andrews slams Federal Health Minister over ‘insulting’ comments.

Andrews in his subsequent media conference explained to the press that he and the people around him, including his Chief Health Officer and Deputy CHO, have more concrete information about what is happening on the ground than any Federal minister, or indeed any academic epidemiologist. They discuss at length and in detail why they take the specific measures they do.

That is why it is galling and just wrong for Health Minister Greg Hunt to say:

    “The epidemiological conditions for a COVID-safe reopening of hospitality, movement and family reunions, among others, have now firmly been met,” he said.

    “Victoria should now be able to move to the next step, in line with NSW.”

The journalists on Insiders (Nine Newspapers’ chief political correspondent David Crowe, the AFR’s’s Jennifer Hewett and the ubiquitous Peter van Onselen) would have done well to listen to Andrews media conferences before lecturing that he has to be more accountable.

One matter that has concerned me is that Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Paul Kelly has often been quoted as saying there is no medical reason to shut state borders.

I can’t find a direct quote where he says that. Certainly he has given his opinion, but in this article the direct quote is:

    “From a medical point of view I can’t see why the borders are still closed,” he said.


    Professor Kelly said he was sure Mr McGowan was getting “the best advice” from WA’s Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Robertson, who has advised not to reopen the borders.

    When questioned on the discrepancy between the national and state advice, Professor Kelly said the national body of health experts decided early on “not to have a decision on borders”.

    “As have been the case with much of the national advice, specific issues related to states are to be done at that state level,” he said.

    “Western Australia can close their border, and they have.” (Emphasis added)

On the evidence, Kelly is not disrespecting the positions taken by his state colleagues, simply giving his own opinion.

On Sunday Morrison, Hunt and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg issued a Joint media statement – Victorian restrictions. After some conciliatary words and reminding us how many billions they had contributed ($31 billion economic lifeline extended to the state through JobKeeper, JobSeeker’s COVID supplement and pandemic disaster leave) they slipped into Victoria, including:

    Throughout the lockdown more than 1000 jobs have been lost, on average, every day. There has also been a 31 per cent increase in mental health services being accessed under Medicare for the same four-week period up to 11 October in Victoria compared with last year, whilst it has been only an eight per cent increase in NSW and seven per cent nationally.

    The continued health, mental health and financial impacts of these restrictions will be profound on many Victorians. That is why we encourage Victoria to move safely and quickly towards the NSW model of strong contact tracing and a COVIDSafe but predominately open economy.

So then it was on again in the media, as from The New Daily with Morrison slams ‘heavy cost’ of Victoria lockdowns, calls on Andrews to open faster, plus ‘Disappointing’: Business leaders condemn Melbourne’s ongoing retail ban:

    Business leaders have slammed a decision to keep Melbourne retailers shut for up to a further two weeks, arguing it will prolong the pain for businesses that were already hanging by a thread.

More slamming.

Then Josh Frydenberg really let fly in Josh Frydenberg slams Victoria’s ‘callous indifference’ towards small business owners:

    Josh Frydenberg is furious the Victorian premier has not gone further in reopening the state, given the low number of new infections.

    He accused Mr Andrews of making it up as he goes and demonstrating a callous indifference towards small business owners.

    “The bloody-mindedness is unforgivable,” Mr Frydenberg said on Monday.

    “There’s been a callous indifference in Victoria from the government to the loss of jobs and to the plight of small business.”

    Mr Frydenberg warned 1000 jobs would be lost each and every day the state remained in lockdown.

Business groups have also criticised the “inexplicable and unacceptable” timeline for lifting restrictions in Victoria, we are told.

Business groups meaning mainly retail and hospitality.

Greg Hunt had Tweeted:

    Another good day for Victoria. The three day rolling average for Vic is now below 2 cases. This is well below the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer’s definition of a Covid hot spot (ie below 10 cases) & lays the foundation for a move to Covid Safe practices in line with NSW.

I need to re-assert here from my post about hotspots and borders that the CMO gave that average as a definition of a surging hotspot that might warrant federal support with masks, PPE and such, and was never considered by National Cabinet in relation to borders.

Nowhere in the world have I heard a 3-day rolling average used as relevant to opening up after suppressing the virus.

Andrews response to criticism was blunt. See Daniel Andrews lashes Josh Frydenberg over attack on Victoria’s Covid strategy:

    “It’s all about the politics with this bloke, isn’t it?

    “That’s all he does. He is not a leader, he is just a Liberal. All he does is play politics, every day, and I just don’t think that is fair, and I think Victorians are sick of it. Victorians want their family protected, they wanted their health issues dealt with so we can open up. All he does is play politics in the midst of a global pandemic.”

AFR political columnist Jennifer Hewett in her Monday column says:

    Daniel Andrews is a strong political performer despite his government’s many failings in dealing with the coronavirus. So to distract critical attention, he is accusing Josh Frydenberg of playing political games. (Emphasis added)


    Frydenberg, along with the business community, has been increasingly frustrated by the snail-like pace and lack of logic in Victoria’s delayed emergence from lockdown given the impact on jobs and the ability of businesses to survive.

Frydenberg, when he makes these attacks, looks like his head is about to explode. This ABC short video of Andrews, which is headlined “Premier responds angrily…”, actually shows him calm, over it, and resigned in the face of reporters who will have different view.

Hewitt was in sych with the AFR editorial line on Monday Dragging the chain on reopening is all about politics

    Daniel Andrews is still on an inexplicably and unwarrantedly slow and complex road out of the restrictions for Victorian business despite the minimal and manageable health risks.

Somehow Andrews is seen to be locking up Victorians for his political advantage. Then there is this:

    The small mercy for some struggling businesses in Victoria might be that after months of uncertainty, there is now a firmer timetable and hopes of a faster pace. But to show gratitude would be to give in to Stockholm syndrome. Mr Andrews is still insisting on an inexplicably and unwarrantedly slow and complex road out of the restrictions for business, despite the minimal and manageable health risks.

All Victoria needs to do is what NSW is doing.

The ‘unwarranted’ tag is drawn from superficially listening to the utterings of academic epidemiologists, who have been much in demand. So here is what I heard and found such academic epidemiologists saying in the course of about 24 hours.

First there was Professor James McCaw, mathematical biologist and infectious diseases epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, on ABC RN’s AM program in Expert warns Australia still in early stage of pandemic.

He is largely supportive of what Andrews is doing. He thinks opening up could perhaps go a little faster, but things are heading in the right direction. He is more confident now of the system’s ability to cope with outbreaks which are still likely, and with the public’s response. He emphasised that we are in the early stages of this pandemic, and a fair way from a vaccine.

Of particular interest, he said how pleased he was Andrews understood that the raw numbers were not the whole story. At this stage, when numbers were low, qualitative decisions need to be made.

He thought absolutely that gatherings in homes to watch the AFL grand final should not happen.

Then within minutes we had Norman Swan in Case numbers plummet but business restrictions remain in Melbourne interviewed by Geraldine Doogue on RN Breakfast.

Swan’s overview was stunning. He said that Victoria had smashed the COVID curve like no other country in the world. No country that had suffered the level of infection seen in Victoria of 700 per day, and on the path to double the infection rate in less than a week, had suppressed the virus to the low levels now seen. Not Singapore, not South Korea. If we look at the second wave in Israel with a population not much larger than Victoria, we could have seen hundreds of thousands of cases and several thousand deaths but for the Victorian intervention.

(Arguably, China did better than Victoria, but China, as we know, is exceptional.)

As to Victoria’s daily infections now being lower than NSW’s, Swan said that was irrelevant. He said what mattered was that Victoria still had more mystery cases (I think it was 16 in Victoria vs low single digits in NSW) indicating more community circulation. That was what mattered, plus the trajectory of those numbers, remembering the official infections reflected what happened some days ago. NSW, he said, was not steel-belted against a major outbreak. Christmas, he said was set up for superspreading. The family barbecue was made for the virus.

Swan felt that Victoria was now probably just as good as NSW in quickly testing, tracing etc.

Mention was made of an AFR article by Nathan Grills Curfew fails human rights test by Nathan Grills, who is an AFR columnist and is an associate professor and public health physician at the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne. He also works a shift in a hospital emergency department which finishes at 10pm, and now is peeved because he can’t do his supermarket shopping on the way home, when:

    The supermarkets are quiet and I encounter few people. Likewise, the elderly who are vulnerable to COVID-19 might choose to shop at 10pm to avoid encountering many people. Instead, the curfew forces us all to shop at times when we encounter more people – and more risk.

Grills has taken a human rights case to the Supreme Court, because he claims the Melbourne curfew decision infringes the proportionality principle, established in international law, where restrictions should be applied proportionally by using the least restrictive measure required. Moreover:

    To build community trust and acceptance during such limitation of human rights, the community should know how the decision was made, by whom, on what evidence and for what end.

Seems it was an idea of Andrews, not the police or the CHO, and not in the expectation that it would make much difference.

Swan thought the curfew was for the greater good. I’m not a lawyer, but it looks to me that Grills has the better case. Apparently the case has been brought forward, so that it will be heard early in November, around Melbourne Cup time.

McCaw and Swan convinced me that Andrews and his team are pretty much on the right track, and that the political bother boys from the Feds have a different agenda. I’ll come back to that, but below I’ve listed other relevant information and opinion, with a few points highlighted.

McIntyre said the Victorian health system had been badly hollowed out from the 1990s. That would point to the work of one Jeffrey Gibb Kennett who was premier from 1992 to 1999. McIntyre was happy with the decentralised testing and tracing installed in recent months.

Bennett said that she was happy with a phased and gradual opening up in principle.

  • Professor Catherine Bennett, Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University, wrote in Inside StoryLessons from the lockdown (Monday 19 October)

Bennett has contributed some interesting insights, for example:

    We also gained a better understanding of transmission, with the sum of global evidence to date confirming that it mostly occurs via the respiratory route from droplets or, less frequently, aerosols. The evidence was also confirming that transmission usually occurs in clusters, most often when people are in close proximity indoors, with poor ventilation, for extended periods.

She points out that 70% of people who get the virus do not pass it on. It is mostly passed by superspreaders in situations favourable to spreading.

Mandatory masks were critical in the success of the Melbourne suppression. However, she believes that people should wear masks only in situations where it makes a real difference, as opposed to everywhere. They should think for themselves about virus transmission and how they can stay safe.

There were too many rules, which make people lose agency and the government lose engagement. In the long run it is better for people to internalise appropriate behaviours rather than just worry about rules and whether they will be caught.

Only in October was the ‘contact of contacts’ approach adopted, which she had been recommending for months. This throws the net wider with every infection identified.

My comment would be that in government sometimes you can’t do what is deemed optimal. The human and other resources need to be cranked up, which takes time.

The first 5:45 min roundup includes a short interview with Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. She favours a ‘hasten slowly’ approach, would have liked a little more speed, but we are only talking about a week or so, and a slow exit is what we need.

That was followed by an interview with Catherine Bennett, who said some of the things she said elsewhere, but stressed that Victoria had learned a lot, and she is now confident that they can handle whatever comes as well as NSW can. She thinks this may be the last of the lockdowns we need in Australia.

  • Finally Professor Tony Blakely penned a piece So, Victoria, what do we do now? originally published in The Age on 13 October 2020.
  • At that time the new cases were stubbornly refusing to go below 10 per day and were even rising a bit. So he said that the stated aims for opening on 19 October were mathematically impossible. I can’t do justice to the article in a summary, but he argues the case for opening on 19 October, then argues the case for staying closed. They seem equally valid, so he says “Bugger” and offers some thoughts for more gentle easing.

    His prediction for what would happen if Victoria opened as specified in the roadmap was this:

      I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but if we do open up more on the 19 October it is very likely that at some point in the future – hopefully after Christmas – we will have to tighten up again.

      I hope I am wrong, but I fear yo-yoing between Step 2 and Step 3 is our most likely – even most optimistic – trajectory till we get a vaccine.

    From what Catherine Bennett said I think the tracing of contacts of contacts began about when Tony Buckley was tapping out his piece.

    All this adds up to zero support for what Frydenberg and company are baying for. That is not denying the cost in social, economic and mental health terms. With a bit of luck, suppression may turn into virtual elimination, effectively already achieved in states and territories other than NSW and Victoria, while realising opening to the rest of the world will bring further outbreaks. Our big problem will be complacency, especially in states that have been virus-free for a time.

    Meanwhile the real problem facing Frydenberg and Morrison was that the support provided by JobKeeper and JobSeeker enhancements, plus the Budget, did not provide the confidence business needs to invest, and did not take into account what would be needed to turn the situation in Victoria around. Melbourne is a major hub city in our society and economy. We need it in good shape.

    Frydenberg and Morrison are worried that their budget strategy may come up short. They are trying to bully Victoria and pre-emptively shift blame.

    On Wednesday the leaders of seven major businesses – Wesfarmers, Commonwealth Bank, BHP, Orica, Incitec Pivot, Newcrest and Coca-Cola Amatil – wrote to Andrews pleading for him to allow businesses to reopen. In response Trucking boss Lindsay Fox urges support for Premier’s ‘tough decisions’:

      Trucking magnate Lindsay Fox urged the business community to find solutions and work together to fight the deadly virus that has wreaked devastation across Victoria.

      “We have a common enemy, and they don’t seem to realise this,” he said.

      “They are spending so much time throwing stones rather than trying to find a way to fix the problem.”

    Onya Lindsay.

    36 thoughts on “Dan is done with political sniping”

    1. Again, this started as a Weekly salon segment, seemed to need a bit more, then I kept on finding stuff. Length alert, it’s about 3000 words, but I think gives a necessary perspective on all the political fisticuffs, and comes up with some new material on the virus.

      Have to go to work now.

    2. Our second wave has killed more than 700 people.
      Every sombre point in the CNN piece on Trump can have its close cousin in Victoria.

    3. Brian: My, perhaps biased, opinion is that the feds are getting stuck into Andrews because the rotten Vic voters actually support Andrews and believe he is doing a good job instead of directing all praise to the feds.
      My criticism of Andrews is that he is not putting effort to use more strategies in parallel to either bring things under control faster and/or be able to stop the more destructive strategies sooner.
      Part of my criticism of the feds is that they don’t seem to be leading the search for extra strategies, monitoring what is going on overseas and preparing for the high probability of a third wave.

    4. John, as far as I can see the Feds are doing nothing useful on the virus. I meant to link in the post to their COVIDSAFE Common Operating Picture with a traffic light system that no-one takes any notice of as far as I can see.

      They seem to publish a lot of information which is listed as it appears on their Resources page.

      The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has a page with statements like their statement on strategic direction .

      For what it’s worth.

      Catherine Bennett said the state operations were learning from each other. Epidemiologists universally praised Victoria for how they squelched the last couple of outbreaks, so I’m hoping the can get the job done.

      Given what is happening in Europe, where Germany has just had 10,457 in one day and the trend is steeply up, maybe they will be looking to see how Victoria went about it.

    5. Ambi, certainly bad stuff happened and there is blame to go around, but I can’t honestly see that you can put what happened in Victoria in the same class as what Trump did.

    6. Not the same at all, but the Victorian Health Dept (in particular) has difficult questions to answer.

      It’s probably not confined to our State, but there’s a worrying trend (IMO) for senior ranks of State Depts to put a great deal of effort into self-congratulation. In this, of course, they mimic the vacuous self-regard of large corporations (as reflected in their PR and advertising).

      Lack of competence leading to deaths must be accounted for. Justice requires this, IMO.

    7. Ambi: “Lack of competence leading to deaths must be accounted for. Justice requires this, IMO.” This gotcha attitude makes it difficult to avoid similar mistakes in the future and/or improving future responses.
      At some time in the past it was claimed that the US airforce stopped all disciplinary action in connection with plane crashes because the threat of discipline meant that creative pilots would do all they could to cover up the fact that they were involved in risky skylarking. WHAT WAS IMPORTANT WAS FINDING OUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED NOT BLAMING SOMEONE.
      The private security witch hunt is a similar case. I am sure the people involved acted in good faith but shut up once it was clear a witch hunt was in progress. Vic may have lost a good health minister at a time when continuity was important.

    8. I see your point, John.

      It’s tricky, justice and accountability; no doubt about it.

      I prefer investigations to be conducted quietly, and in many cases it’s essential (accused may flee, accused may destroy evidence; accused may intimidate witnesses, or worse).

      But not every investigation that becomes publicly known and is reported on while in progress, is a “witch hunt”.

      It seems that at least one person called to appear at the hotels quarantine enquiry, asked for certain departmental emails not to be forwarded to the inquiry. Should that be reported in the Press? Is that person being witch hunted?

      What of the lawyers he/she instructed? What of the department staff who followed his/her direction? If an inquiry is duly constituted and asks for all relevant documents….. then what? If someone withholds information, couldn’t I call that a “whitewash” or a “witch concealment”?

      I hadn’t heard your pilots skylarking story; it’s interesting.
      (These days GPS records would sort out a skylarker.)

      Truck drivers now have to carry ‘black box’ recorders and keep accurate log books. Let’s hope that reduces unsafe practices like shifts that are too long, speeding, etc. Is that level of monitoring “witch hunting”? ‘Nanny State’? Or is it mainly a question of public safety??

      Hotels quarantine was meant to decrease the probability of COVID infection spread in Victoria. No system is perfect. It seems Victoria’s ‘system’ was a lot worse than ‘somewhat imperfect’.

      In a Westminster system, we don’t have to wait for the next election (to vote out a Minister). There are, fortunately, quicker ways.

      But what would I know?

    9. Speaking of witch hunts that have highlighted real problems:
      “NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s documents approving of council grants were shredded by her office.” Smelly things shredders or perhaps smell covering shredders. Gladys is looking worse re biased project support: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-23/gladys-berejiklian-approval-of-council-grants-shredded/12806962
      By contrast, I saw the Vic private security thing as something should not have been death by gotcha even though it turned out to be a poor decision ) and poorly managed?)

    10. Thanks John

      Here’s another version (“Guardian”):

      Notes given to the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, regarding millions of dollars in disputed council funding were physically shredded, and then digitally deleted, in what was “not routine practice”, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

      On Friday, two senior staffers to Berejiklian testified before a NSW parliament committee that is examining the Stronger Communities Fund – which gave out $252m in funding to councils before the 2019 state election.

      More than 95% of the fund’s grants were given to Coalition seats, and some decisions were made without signed paperwork or reasoning, according to the NSW Greens.

      On Friday, the committee heard that Sarah Lau, a senior policy adviser to Berejiklian, sent multiple emails about the grants that said “The premier has approved” and “The premier has signed off further funding”.

      More than 95% of $252m NSW grant scheme went to councils in Coalition seats, Greens say
      Read more
      But Lau testified that this was just “a turn of phrase” and Berejiklian did not “approve” the funding.

      “It would have been more accurate to say she [Berejiklian] confirmed she was comfortable with the proposed projects,” Lau said.

      “The truth is, she was not approving any payments under the grants program. As I have mentioned earlier, that was not a role that she had under the program.”

      Lau said that Berejiklian indicated she was “comfortable” with the grants through a series of “working advice notes”, which have now been shredded and deleted.

      “I advised her with the proposed list of councils to be funded and proposed projects,” she said. “I had done that as part of a working advice note. She had indicated on that note that she was comfortable.”

      Lau said she could not recall what Berejiklian wrote on the advice note, but it was likely that she just ticked the note, or circled it.

      She told the committee that after this, the notes were likely shredded.

      “After the premier indicated she was comfortable [and] I sent emails recording that … I then disposed of those working advice notes … in line with my normal record management practices,” she said.

      The chair of the committee, the Greens MP David Shoebridge, asked whether digital versions existed.

      Lau said the notes were created on Microsoft Word and they are “no longer available”, and she believed she had deleted them “as part of her normal record keeping process”.

      Shoebridge asked Sarah Cruikshank, who was Berejiklian’s chief of staff at the time, if this was routine practice.

      Cruikshank said: “No I would say it is not.

      “There was no policy in place [for the routine destruction of documents],” she said.

      Good to see that Govt staffers have updated the old “whiteboard” of the Hawke Govt era [Ros Kelly] with contemporary electronic methods.


      Australia Post, watches as gifts gotcha!
      ASIC, tax advice gotcha!
      Gladys, handouts to Councils gotcha!

    11. Ambi: “Australia Post, watches as gifts gotcha!
      ASIC, tax advice gotcha!
      Gladys, handouts to Councils gotcha!”
      There are gotchas and gotchas. Handouts that only go to councils in Coalition seats seems like a well deserved gotcha to me.
      Going for a gotcha because private was used to satisfy an fill an urgent need to get quarantine set up is playing shallow politics in the middle of an emergency. Andrews should have dismissed it for the shallow political exercise that it was.

    12. Ambi, certainly where there are deaths as a result of actions taken there should be accountability and consequences. However, John makes a good point.

      I know someone who was on a hospital board who believed that every death in a hospital should be investigated by a coroner. He said doctors too easily bury their mistakes.

      However, he could not persuade the rest of the board to his view. And would doctors be willing to work under these conditions? It happens with the police, does it not?

      On the hotel quarantine thing I look forward to the findings, but would not be surprised if they can’t pin it down. From what I’ve heard so far, I think it’s clear the police did not want to do the job, and the default solution was to hire someone else to do it.

      It was sloppy from there on, but what intrigues me is I can’t understand how a private security firm could be paid if there wasn’t cabinet approval, which would have to be done through a minister.

      When I worked in government each senior level of administration from branch head up had a dollar amount as an approval authority, and it wasn’t all that big before it required a cabinet approval.

      Even then it was necessary to get Executive Council approval (follow the link down a couple of paras):

        In Queensland, the Executive Council normally meets once a week and only requires a quorum of two Ministers plus the Governor in order to operate.

      My guess is in today’s dollar terms the limit without cabinet approval would be less that $1m. Certainly all permanent staff appointments, and overseas trips were included. One reason to corporatise (rather than privatise) functions like the electricity system was to allow them to operate more flexibly in the modern economic environment.

      Formally you had to wait until Executive Council had approved something before writing an order. I’m sure there was a reference system to tie up the paperwork, which could later be audited.

      It seems to me inconceivable that Berejiklian could give the nod to $252 m worth of expenditure and then destroy the records.

      The ‘sports rorts’ were also inconceivable to me, as is the notion that $30m plus can be spent on land for the Badgery Creek airport as a departmental matter without ministerial involvement.

      In Qld, definitely before the Fitzgerald Inquiry, we had the Treasurer’s Instructions which from memory were about as thick as the Bible, so you needed to hire administration officers to understand it and keep you in line.

      I think we need a bit of old-fashioned Public Administration 101. Where we seem to be heading is somewhere between thinly veiled and barefaced corruption.

    13. John

      Premier Andrews did, for dats (if not weeks?) dismiss it as a priority. He was concentrating his daily Press conferences/sratemebts on medical matters, with which I agree.

      (Not that he need care about my opinion.)

      But the outbreak seemed to be traceable yo hotel quarantine, and rumours and press reports were spreading about very poor “quarantine” measures.

      Indiscipline, laziness, sloppy practices and attitudes by both hotel “guests” and hotel “guards “.

      Now if that were a story about skylarking or fraternisation without infection spread then yes, a cheap “gotcha”.

      But people died, others were seriously ill and pulled through (but may suffer in the.longer term). Even from a simple medical viewpoint, catastrophe which was supposed to be avoided. In my view, when predictable (and mostly avoidable) deaths occur, a line has been crossed.

      Road deaths from high alcohol levels.
      Road deaths from faulty traffic signals.
      Road deaths from culpable, dangerous driving.
      Industrial manslaughter.
      Theme park fatal accident.
      Ruby Princess disaster.
      West Gate Bridge collapse (1970).

      We need to draw a line.

      I’d say Brian’s detailed account of signing-off-for-expenditure provides an analogy. Above a certain $ amount, an extra layer of responsibility and checking is brought in.

    14. To change the topic slightly, Morrison’s report said that Chief Scientist Dr Finkel was stress-testing the tracing/testing regimes in each state. Just being helpful, not holding to account.

      Not sure what that involves.

    15. I probably should have included these two articles in the post:

      Victoria could have eliminated Covid in six weeks by entering stage-four lockdown in July, analysis shows (19 October). Tony Blakely’s analysis:

        found that had Victoria introduced a six-week stage-four lockdown with masks from 9 July statewide, elimination of the virus was possible. Their model did not include curfews or a 5km travel limit, but included a lockdown that saw schools, department stores and hardware stores closed, most people except essential workers working from home, and mask-wearing made mandatory.


        A professor of epidemiology at La Trobe University, Hassan Vally, said there was “a great deal of randomness or plain luck” involved with how things played out.

        “I think what we are seeing in the different approaches to the pandemic and the success some countries have had without the need for lockdowns as strict as Victoria’s is that this is a complex problem and no one can be absolutely certain what the settings are that will achieve best outcomes,” he said.

      Victoria’s failure to hit roadmap targets shows ‘foolhardy’ strategy to eliminate virus, experts say (13 October)

        “The Victorian road map has as its last two steps, steps you take if eliminating [is your goal],” Blakely said. “We are obviously failing to get there, which is a shame. But the point here is that the Victorian department of health and human services had those targets to try and get completely on top of the virus, hopefully … eliminating community transmission.

        “Given cases are popping up again in New South Wales, and NSW does not believe long periods of elimination of community transmission are possible, this makes it challenging – if not even foolhardy – for Victoria to now go hard for elimination, given where we are at – a stubborn tail.”

        He said it now made sense to pivot towards a policy of safely opening up, and while that would mean clusters would continue to pop up, Victoria’s contact tracing was in a position to emulate the success of NSW in keeping on top of the numbers.

      Not sure that was helpful, given his article of the same date I quoted in the post, plus the fact that in the column next to those paras is a link to Victoria’s premier says Melbourne roadmap out of Covid lockdown likely to be redrawn from the previous day, when Andrews says Victoria may be at a stage where it’s as good as it gets and they may have to open up with some virus still about.

    16. Ambi: There will always be arguments about what premiers and managers at various levels are responsible for. What i don’t like is people with 20/20 hindsight playing gotchas. Gotchas can kill people if crisis leaders are diverted from the things they should do to things that should be done by people further down the pecking order. I don’t think that the decision to use private security should have been checked by either the health minister or premier.
      However, things learned should go into procedures for handling future crisis. We used to review our mine cyclone procedures before the cyclone season.

    17. Training in PPE and quarantine methods was lacking, John.
      I would be as critical if police or soldiers or tramdrivers had been employed, if they had been stationed there without the required training or equipment.

      Victorians can’t yet apply 20/20 hindsight because senior Ministers and senior public servants have been – how shall I put this? – *rse-covering.


      Of course even more expensive (lawyer fees, retrieval of documents etc.) *rse-covering has been observed at our quaint little “Lawyer X Royal Commission “. It took the intervention of the High Court to rip the Seven Veils of Secrecy away from that stinking mess.

      Press scrutiny? Ombudsman? Police Integrity bodies?? Opposition? Law Council? Legal Services Board? No. It took the High Court.

      I remain, your humble and opinionated Victorian Era pontificator.
      Pass the collection plate please.

    18. Brian: “Morrison’s report said that Chief Scientist Dr Finkel was stress-testing the tracing/testing regimes in each state. Just being helpful, not holding to account.”
      Good move. I think the Feds have a role to play bringing together the learnings in each state and the world in general while premiers concentrate on the current crisis.

    19. Ambi: You talk like someone who has never managed a substantial, complex operation.
      You are talking as though the big man should be a control freak. Sometimes this can work for a while and/or work for particular situations.
      One of my favorite management manuals was “Up the Organization.” One of the things the author said is that individual leaders need to decide what they should do personally rather than depend on rigid job definition. What they decide to do may depend on the leader and followers strengths and what needs to be done to improve the operation.
      Another gem was that “the weakest department is the department the boss comes from.” The boss thinks that he is the expert and delegates less to the new leader of the dept he used to run.
      Morrison’s time as treasurer and immigration minister is a potential weakness, not a strength.

    20. John

      Ambi: You talk like someone who has never managed a substantial, complex operation.

      And you sound arrogant and condescending for a fellow that part managed a substantial, complex operation using other peoples money, bugger all skin in the game.

      Mr A didn’t pretend he was a leader, just one Victorians opinion with more skin in the game than you or I.

    21. And further, to say Morrisons previous experiences and credentials are more a weakness than a strength shoots yourself again in the foot when you spruik your own.

    22. Ambi: “Jenny Mikakos accuses Daniel Andrews of ‘paralysis’ as Melbourne’s coronavirus reopening announcement is postponed.” https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-25/jenny-mikakos-slams-daniel-andrews-over-coronavirus-restrictions/12811188
      “Former Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos has accused Premier Daniel Andrews of “paralysis in decision-making” for postponing his announcement about the next step in the easing of Melbourne’s coronavirus restrictions.
      Key points:
      Ms Mikakos says with daily case numbers low and most linked to outbreaks, there is no reason to delay reopening Melbourne
      State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien says the Premier has “broken Victorians’ hearts” by delaying the reopening announcement
      Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says none of those criticising Victoria’s approach have access to all the relevant data
      Victoria recorded seven new coronavirus cases today, including six linked to an outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
      Ms Mikakos posted on social media that with Victoria’s 14-day rolling average of daily new cases under five, and all but one of the new cases linked to a known outbreak, any delay to reopening was “unnecessary”.
      Fall lady not willing to stay falled?
      Me I think the crucial thing is to continue to enforce strategies like mask using and keeping high risk places like pubs and clubs shut while easing strategies that are doing the most economic damage.
      Then again I have never ridden on a high dray so what would I know?

    23. TBH, I think the ABC using that Mikakos Tweet as a hook is appalling journalism. In it she says:

        all but one of the new cases linked to a known outbreak, any delay to reopening was “unnecessary”.

      That is simply not true:

        Mr Andrews said it was “not safe” to make announcements about reopening while authorities were still waiting for results from more than 1,000 tests connected to the outbreak in Melbourne’s north.

        “This is not anything other than a cautious pause, to wait to get that important information, to get the results of those tests, just to rule out whether… there is more virus there than we think.”

        They’ve got, I think, 39 cases in 11 families, and within a day or so have done their contacts of contacts tracing, have a couple of thousand of tests back, but are still waiting for more than 1000.

        They need to see whether it is a contained cluster, or a major outbreak in the northern suburbs. Down at the bottom of the article Alan Baxter, a James Cook immunologist, points out that the cluster already covers ONE THIRD of the suburbs of Melbourne.

        I heard most of the press conference on NewsRadio after I finished with yet another pathetic and substandard Insiders.

        There is a better account of what was said at The New Daily. This is the most important bit:

          The Premier said last week’s timetable to significantly ease more rules by November 1 was still on track, and that he hoped to be able to announce those reforms as early as Tuesday.

      And from the Premier’s statement:

        We have around 1,000 swabs currently being processed – and we’re expecting even more today.

        We’ll use the next couple of days to review those results and understand exactly how this virus is travelling.

        Put simply: this is a couple of extra days that might put us weeks ahead of this virus. To not only get on top of this outbreak – but to stamp it out.

        I know everyone will be disappointed we’re not making that move today. I get that. I am too.

        But I want to reassure you, this is not us taking a step back. This is us making sure we can take a step forward – and stay there.

      There was a good article at the ABC – Melbourne coronavirus restrictions announcement delayed by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews after COVID-19 outbreak, a reasonable one at The Guardian – Daniel Andrews under fire over delayed easing of restrictions after seven new cases reported, also worthwhile at news.com.au – Coronavirus Australia live: Victorian contact tracing criticised as restriction lift on ‘pause’.

      From The G we learn that up to 400 primary and secondary contacts had been identified and isolated.

      Andrews was asked whether asymptomatic testing was being done. Andrews said, yes it was. Apparently part of their routine now is to undertake what has been called ‘sentinel testing’ in areas where there is an outbreak.

      The complaint was made that Melbourne had endured the longest lockdown in the world. Brett Sutton’s answer was:

        “It’s not the longest in the world, there are a dozen or more countries that have had longer lockdowns, there are many countries that have had stricter lockdowns, and countries that have had longer and stricter lockdowns,” he said.

    24. To finish off that comment, it was a long and aggressive media conference. Andrews had to keep saying the same thing over and over. It was as though people didn’t listen, or if they did they didn’t understand.

      For the most part Andrews was patient and calm, as was Brett Sutton. Andrews simply refused to comment on the Mikakos Tweet, which I thought was fair enough.

    25. John, I can agree with your point that:

        that individual leaders need to decide what they should do personally rather than depend on rigid job definition. What they decide to do may depend on the leader and followers strengths and what needs to be done to improve the operation.

      I think what Ambi is stressing is a bit different. To me, he’s saying that when people die there needs to be accountability and responsibility. It’s a troubling question, whether we are dealing with acts committed or omitted.

      You say:

        I don’t think that the decision to use private security should have been checked by either the health minister or premier.

      Respectfully, I would disagree, both in terms of the function and the money. I think in future no-one in a state public service will hire a private security firm to do hotel quarantines without the highest authority.

      It is quite unsatisfactory that months after all that happened there should be a disagreement between the premier and the health minister about where the responsibility lay.

      In general terms it would be the more senior person who should make sure that the lines of responsibility were clear and understood.


    26. Brian: “Respectfully, I would disagree, both in terms of the function and the money. I think in future no-one in a state public service will hire a private security firm to do hotel quarantines without the highest authority.”
      With all due respect Vic would grind to a halt if the premier is expected to check the details of every minor contract issued by the Vic government. If anything, doing this would probably increase the risk because the big man has checked it. What is necessary are OH&S checks on all contracts. Contractor competence should be part of those checks.
      What the review should have been looking for was gaps in the system that needed fixing. Not a gotcha chase to screw the people who knew about the decision to go private.

    27. When I googled how many Victorian public servants I got “The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians. We are the people in 1800 different departments, agencies and organisations across Victoria who deliver services to the public.”
      That is a lot of people for the premier to directly keep check on.

    28. When I googled Vic public service numbers I got “The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians. We are the people in 1800 different departments, agencies and organisations across Victoria who deliver services to the public.”

    29. John, it’s about lines of responsibility, not about checking every thing that moves.

      To make it concrete, I would have thought that hotel quarantine was a police operational responsibility, with input from health. This should have been sorted out in the first place instead of the laissez-faire schmozzle it turned out to be.

      Also the importance of getting it right was not understood.

      Sorting all that out in the first place by interaction of the public service agencies and then putting it to cabinet for discussion as long as it would take (minutes rather than hours) would have saved everyone a lot of time and grief.

      With the wisdom of hindsight.

      Which is why I say it will never be taken that lightly again.


    30. Peter Brent has an interesting take at Inside StoryNot really about Dan.

      He says that regardless of his public impact, Josh Frydenberg is making his case to be party leader.

      So it’s all about politics. But:

        Josh Frydenberg is very likely to succeed in his ambition to lead his party one day, but doing it at the right time requires old-fashioned luck. The curse of Brendan Nelson, another party-room manipulator, hovers.

      This is what he thinks about the prospects of Dan Andrews:

        And Dan Andrews? He is unlikely to be Labor leader at the next election, not because of the heavy-handed lockdown — the public will judge it worthwhile if that normal Christmas eventuates — but because of his perceived responsibility for the second wave itself. He won’t be able to shake that off.

    31. Different country, but here’s a possible instance of political games being played:

      Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah has rejected a proposal by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for him to declare a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis, saying that he did not see the need.

      Critics say Muhyiddin’s request for emergency rule, which would include suspending Parliament, is an attempt by the premier to stay in power amid a leadership challenge.

      – Nine newspapers.

      Apparently the Malaysian ‘King’ is a Sultan who consults with other Sultans. Not quite Elizabethh II, nor Sir John Kerr.

    32. Brian: “And Dan Andrews? He is unlikely to be Labor leader at the next election, not because of the heavy-handed lockdown — the public will judge it worthwhile if that normal Christmas eventuates — but because of his perceived responsibility for the second wave itself. He won’t be able to shake that off.”
      My understanding is that Dan didn’t intend to run anyway. (May be part of the reason he could make hard decisions.)
      It would be ironic if the “private is better party” ran against someone’s decision to use private.
      After the crisis voter decisions may be made on what the plan for the future is rather than the hard decisions made during the crisis.

    33. Victoria has had no new cases for the first time since 9 June, the latest outbreak has been contained, and if there are more cases they are confident they can handle them.

      So Victoria is opening up significantly. See today’s premier’s statement.

      I only heard part of the media conference. Andrews was emphasising that the biggest problem in recent times has been in-home transmission. Families visiting each other when they shouldn’t.

      So there are still quite tight restrictions on in-home gatherings.

      He also defended the 25km travel limit, saying you needed some limit to prevent too many people gathering at spots where they tend to gather.

      In answer to a journo who was lecturing him about NSW doing testing and tracing better, he said Victoria was using the better technology than elsewhere in Australia, and suggested that doing over 4000 tests in the area of the outbreak well within guidelines would be hard to match.

      I’m making this point because a lot has been said,m including on the front page of the AFR, about Victoria lacking confidence in its own testing/tracing regime. Andrews was saying they are very confident without being complacent.

      He pointed out, though, that it was CHO Brett Sutton who was heading up the effort and chairing a variety of groupings to keep the thing working.

    34. At the beginning of Question Time Anthony Albanese proposed what I think is called an urgency motion about the sacrifices made by Victorians which have kept every Australian safe.

        “From a grateful nation, we say thank you.”

      Government members supported the motion, led by PM Morrison, who spoke positively with a bit of sundry lecturing thrown in about contact tracing and such.

      Josh Frydenberg couldn’t help himself, so he piled on Andrews again without mentioning his name in what Labor MP Andrew Giles called “nasty”, a “disrespectful, ungracious and divisive” speech.

      Frydenberg made particular reference to mental health impacts, including the suicide of a friend of a friend. For the story see Treasurer’s astonishing spray as Victorians finally celebrate the easing of restrictions.

      Problem is that the Treasurer made almost no provisions to give special help to Victoria.

      Yesterday I heard a leading mental health medico say there was nothing new in this year’s budget for mental health. I think they have doubled the number of GP referred specialist psych sessions available under medicare, but that was badly needed anyway.

      One would have thought that increased mental health from pandemic induced trauma would have required some additional provision.

    35. Makes you aware of how much all Australian states are ahead of a lot of countries.
      Doctors with COVID-19 continue to work as hospitals in Belgium buckle under pandemic https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-28/doctors-with-covid-19-continue-to-work-in-belgian-hospitals/12820880
      COVID-positive doctors and nurses are continuing to work in Belgian hospitals as a fresh wave of the pandemic creates an “impossible” situation for the country’s medical system.
      Key points:
      Infected medical staff only treat patients who are also infected
      The head of the Belgian Association of Medical Unions says sending doctors home “would be worse”
      Inadequate testing and contact tracing, as well as the onset of cold weather, are fuelling the pandemic
      The Government will convene on Friday local time to decide on a potential new national lockdown, with the country now suffering Europe’s highest rate of coronavirus infections per 100,000 citizens.
      The head of the Belgian Association of Medical Unions, Philippe Devos, said hospital staff infected with COVID-19 would only treat patients who were also infected with coronavirus, to limit the risk of spread.
      “They must eat in a separate room [from healthy staff members] and they must not remove their masks during the shift,” he told RN Breakfast.
      “We know that it is a bad decision, but the other decision would be worse.”
      ALSO: “He said a number of factors had contributed to the severity of the second wave, including a shortfall in testing due to an equipment shortage.
      There has also been a lag in contact tracing, with COVID-19 sufferers being called nine days after infection, rendering it “useless”.
      Dr Devos also said the Belgian public had to wear some of the blame.
      “The population stopped believing the Government and decided not to adhere to the measures,” he said.
      “It’s a global failure … I think the media gave too much space to people who said it was just a simple flu.”

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