CHO Brett Sutton exposes VIC Government’s COVID failures

More cracks have appeared within the Victorian Government over the state’s bungled COVID-19 response.

Yesterday, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton fronted the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry whereby he confirmed that he wanted to be in charge of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic but was sidelined:

Professor Sutton said he would have preferred being in charge of the state’s COVID-19 response when the pandemic began in Victoria.

Under the state emergency plan, the Chief Health Officer is technically supposed to be the state controller – the person who has oversight of the overall pandemic response.

Instead, Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck recommended the job go to someone else because Mr Sutton would be too busy as the key public health advisor and face of the pandemic.

Professor Sutton confirmed in the inquiry that he didn’t agree with this decision.

“The position [of state controller] has line of sight of operational elements that I as chief health officer and accountable with all the powers that I’m exercising under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act that it’s important for me to have line of sight of the application of those controls and to be appropriately aware, to have situational awareness of those operational activities,” Professor Sutton said…

Professor Sutton said it was preferable in a pandemic that someone with public health expertise and experience with communicable diseases was state controller.

Sutton’s department also warned of problems in Victoria’s pandemic response in early April, but was ignored:

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton requested an urgent review of the hotel quarantine program after he was sidelined by bureaucrats from overseeing the state’s response to the pandemic, an inquiry has heard.

Professor Sutton further told the inquiry today that he did not know private security was going to be used until after the outbreaks occurred, telling then Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy in June the causal guards were the “wrong cohort”.

An email sent on behalf of Professor Sutton and then deputy CHO Annaliese van Diemen by Public Health Commander Finn Romanes on April 8, flagged serious issues with the program due to a lack of input from public health experts.

“There appears to be a lack of a unified plan for this program, and there is considerable concern that the lead roles have not had an opportunity to be satisfied there is a policy and set of processes to manage the healthcare and welfare of detainees, for whom the program is accountable.”

Professor Sutton told the inquiry he supported Dr Finn Romanes in sending the email, saying he supported the public health commander in calling out issues that “required urgent review”.

“Absolutely, Dr Romanes was acting on behalf of me in highlighting concerns that he had,” he said.

Professor Sutton further told the inquiry that no one asked for his opinion on using private security and said he saw the risks of using highly casualised workers as they were incentivised to work while potentially infectious.

Professor Sutton and his team also gave advice about infection control such as cleaning and personal protective equipment. But because they were not overseeing the program, he cannot confirm whether the advice was followed:

Professor Sutton told today’s hearing his public health team provided advice and directions on personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning policies for the hotels.

But he said once the advice was provided to the massive bureaucratic taskforce, which he referred to as a “large beast”, his team was unaware about whether the directions were actually being followed.

Mr Ihle probed Professor Sutton about the extent of his team’s role.

“Is it fair to say that [your team] doesn’t have oversight of how they’re [health directions] being proliferated and complied with?” Mr Ihle asked.

“Yes I think that’s a fair statement,” Mr Sutton replied.

“Oversighting that guidance or policy directions was not part of our purview,” he later said.

Unbelievable stuff. Instead of letting a public health expert oversee a public health emergency, the task was left to bureaucrats who then employed untrained supermarket security and Uber drivers.

The whole system was set up to fail from the very beginning.

Leith van Onselen
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  1. adelaide_economistMEMBER

    “Professor Sutton further told the inquiry today that he did not know private security was going to be used until after the outbreaks occurred, telling then Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy in June the causal guards were the “wrong cohort”.”

    Uh oh, that’s sailing very close to rac!sm but couched in the words of someone who knows how this game is played. The problem is that as more and more of the country turns into a third world hellhole it’s harder and harder to assume that assumed ‘cultural norms’ will prevail in situations outside of the ordinary.

    • And in a similar universe 50 years back it might have read:

      “The building inspector told the inquiry today that he did not know private security was going to be used in place of engineers until the West Gate Bridge collapsed, the causal guards being of the “wrong cohort”.”

      Governing by sub-contract and ideology to serve the wants of identity politics, rather than to uphold community standards, is almost the opposite of a meritocracy. It sets the bar ever lower until there are no objective measures of competence remaining. That has to be the worst sort of social policy as the people who suffer the most are those who have not been lifted up. Instead, others have been brought down, in the process making pariahs of minority groups and establishing a precedent that will long be remembered even if it will not be openly discussed.

      When we get to the stage of all “knowing” what went on without the ability to honestly discuss it, we have navigated into dangerous waters.

  2. A big cause of the spread in hotels is that the security guards refused to wash their hands as alcohol-based hand sanitizer was against their religion.

    Private security guarding returned travellers in Victoria’s hotel quarantine program were concerned about using hand sanitiser because it was against their religion, an inquiry has been told.

      • TheLambKingMEMBER

        So to summarise, it is ok for Dan Andrews to have virtually unlimited power but he can’t be held responsible for any stuff ups.

        This is exactly how every government, state or federal has been run since before federation, why is it suddenly a problem now?

        Boom! Yep. This. But everyone ignores it most of the time.

        Look at the current stuff-ups & corruption of the current LNP federal team (sports rorts, water rights, Barnaby, Barrier Reef Foundation, The Minister for Manila, Gas Cartel, Climate Policy, Energy Policy). Anyone held responsible? Any noise from the press?

        • I have nothing against the Andrews government receiving tough examination over their actions during this pandemic. What I can’t stand is the way the MSM gives a wet lettuce to the Feds while making out that Andrews is Satan Incarnate. Why is Shady Sukkar still on the front bench for crying in a bucket?!

  3. True. But pales into insignificance compared to the litany of incompetence displayed by others—A-Timeline.pdf

    Have a look at these 2 documents

    WHO SITREP giving official Chinese timeline. China fessed up that it was a coronavirus on 7 January.

    Except this

    Look at table of results
    So China obtained CV from a patient at least as early as 26 December. Now even if the PCR was negative as it was a new virus (plausible), I’ll bet both nuts they would have looked at those samples under an electron microscope. They would have seen CV (which were named for their distinct appearance under EM). So they knew they had a CV problem around December 26 – if not earlier.

    Yet nothing for next 14 days.

    • Chinese students were being pulled out of private schools in Qld and were flying home at the end of November as their families were concerned they wouldn’t be able to get home by Christmas otherwise. No reasons for the early departure were provided, but kids talk, so the inability to travel in December was understood as the driver. Yeah, that early.

        • Yes, it is horribly circumstantial and poorly informed and as such should be taken as such. You do have me thinking about roast turkey though; don’t eat it often enough.

  4. At least we are reading about it. Scotty’s and Dutto’s role in the cruise ship debacle in Sydney were classed as “on the water” issues and any federal informants were banned from attending the enquiry with threats of a High Court challenge if they were subpoened.

  5. Let’s not forget that Dan Andrews has said he was certain that military support from ADF personal for help with the hotel quarantine program in Victoria, was NEVER on offer (like it clearly was in NSW and Qld). Given that fact, he was then faced with only two options as to who was going to provide the crucial “boots on the ground” security at the hotels: Victoria Police or private security firms. With Defence personal not an option, the decision to then NOT use the Police force was and is utterly bewildering. The hotel quarantine inquiry has yet to properly investigate exactly why Vicpol was allowed to back out of providing security or any command and control function within Victoria’s hotel quarantine program.
    My understanding is that Victoria Police made it clear as crystal to Andrews that they did not want to have anything more than a peripheral, observational role working outside the physical perimeter of the hotels. Despite being asked, they refused point blank to provide any security inside the hotels and made it very, very clear to the Premier that support for his government (from the Police) would quickly evaporate if they were forced to run the hotel quarantine program and provide direct hands on security. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!

    Let’s hope the Inquiry fully investigates this.

    • My guess is there will be something to this. Were Police concerned about the risk to their personal safety, or was the Police leadership concerned about this task being unpopular with its members?

      • Of these I think unpopular but I reckon more likely is that it would stretch the workforce and take them away from more pressing matters, at least those matters that can only be done with a trained police force. I would think the same if it could be assumed that private security actually did their job including their own infection control measures. Clearly wrong assumption.

  6. I’m glad Professor Sutton didn’t oversee this, he probably wouldn;t have been woke enough to hire a security firm based on their aboriginality. He also probably would have not wanted guards who refused to use hand sanitiser due to religious beliefs. I’ll also hazard a guess and say he’s probably a prude who would have frowned on the guards enjoying relations with the quarantined.

  7. “The whole system was set up to fail from the very beginning.”
    The whole system was set up to spread the virus to every corner of Victoria. Security guards are the greatest form of transmission as they have no regard for the law, go to a lot of gyms, and have a lot female friends.
    Im so surprised that no-one of Vic Govt has put up their hand and become the fall guy for this shambles. Clearly Dan Andrews still has no control over his party.

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