Around two months ago I walked up a one-way street in the Sydney CBD. A young man, wearing a mask approached me and asked, firmly but courteously, if I would use the opposite footpath. I did so.
On looking around, I noticed two parked police cars and a bus. After passing the bus I looked back and saw a member of the Australian Defence Force ushering passengers into a hotel. I realised that this was a group of people returning from overseas and going into 14-day quarantine. There was an air of quiet authority about the process.
This contrasts with the apparent mayhem in some of the hotels used for quarantine in Melbourne. For reasons currently unknown, the Victorian Labor government did not put Victoria Police in charge of quarantine and did not accept the commonwealth government’s early offers to provide the ADF’s assistance.
It appears that most, if not all, of the recent surge in the COVID-19 infections that have occurred in Victoria in recent months was the result of lax quarantine processes, including the employment of security guards who were neither properly trained nor equipped.
These matters are being examined by the COVID-19 hotel quarantine inquiry presided over by former judge Jennifer Coate. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has used the inquiry to refuse to answer questions about decisions made by his government concerning quarantine until the inquiry concludes. This despite the fact Coate has no problem with the Premier commenting publicly on the matter.
As someone who was born in Melbourne and spent half his life there, it’s impossible for me not to feel sad for the plight of Victorians of all ages who are in stage four or stage three lockdown. However, the fact is that the handling of COVID-19 is but the most serious manifestation of the decline of Victorian institutions in recent years — governmental, judicial and police.
Most Victorians should share some responsibility for this due to the fact Labor has been in office for all but four years in the past two decades. It has no one but itself to blame for Victoria’s current discontents. Take Victoria Police, for example. In 2017, it decided to charge the Ballarat-born Cardinal George Pell on 26 counts of historical child sexual abuse.
Only five charges made it to court — the other 21 were withdrawn by the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions, dismissed at the committal stage in the Magistrates’ Court or dropped in the County Court. The five charges on which Pell was convicted were quashed by a seven-nil decision in the High Court.
It was a comprehensive defeat for Victoria Police. Yet outgoing police commissioner Graham Ashton told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on April 9 that its brief against Pell had been “strong”. Also, Ashton stated incorrectly that Victoria Police had acted against Pell after receiving “a complaint from victims”. In fact it set up its Operation Tethering a year before any complainant came forward.
The Office of Public Prosecutions changed its case against Pell in the County Court and struggled to maintain it in the Victorian Court of Appeal. And then, in the High Court, the DPP case fell apart as Kerri Judd QC again altered its submission as to how the alleged offending occurred.
In response to the High Court’s decision, Andrews issued this dismissive statement: “I make no comment about today’s High Court decision. But I have a message for every single victim and survivor. I see you. I hear you. I believe you.” This was an implied criticism of the High Court.
It overlooked the fact three out of five Victorian judges who examined the case (one in the Court of Appeal and two along with five other non-Victorians in the High Court) found that the jury verdict was unsafe.
Then there is the scandal of the Lawyer X affair where Victoria Police engaged a defence lawyer to become a police informer. A royal commission will report on this matter soon. And there is last month’s Operation Gloucester report by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission. This concerned the conviction of Bandali Debs and Jason Roberts for the brutal 1998 murder of two police officers. Roberts, who claims he was not at the scene of the crime, recently had his case heard by the Victorian Court of Appeal.
In his IBAC report, commissioner Robert Redlich QC expressed deep concern about the manner in which the murders were investigated by Victoria Police’s Lorimer Taskforce — including “improper evidentiary and disclosure practices” and “original witness statements being replaced with a new statement”.
It’s a devastating critique of Victoria Police. Moreover, Redlich expresses concern that “these practices … remain current”. One of the senior police officers in the Lorimer Taskforce was among three members of the Victoria Police who interviewed Pell in Rome in October 2016 before he was charged.
It’s a rare occasion indeed that a state’s police, prosecutorial and judicial system is found so heavily wanting in one year. For example, when was the last time the two most senior judges in a state — in this instance Victoria’s chief justice and the president of the Court of Appeal — had a decision in a criminal case overturned by a unanimous seven to nil High Court decision?
Yet the Andrews government refuses to accept that there are problems with Victoria’s legal system. Just as it refuses to accept responsibility for the COVID-19 quarantine breaches and the nursing home deaths in Victoria.
Still, the Socialist Left Premier receives plaudits from many commentators. In a soft profile of Andrews in last Saturday’s Good Weekend magazine in The Age, the Wheeler Centre’s Sally Warhaft was quoted as having tweeted “Grateful Dan Andrews is our Premier, thrilled to bits he’s not my Dad”. Warhaft is older than Andrews. And last Monday, former ABC presenter Jon Faine wrote in The Age that “he cannot imagine anyone else doing a better job” than Andrews.
Meanwhile the revamped lockdowns are crippling Australia’s economy with the impact heaviest in Victoria. Andrews has announced that Victoria is in a state of disaster. Others would consider it a failed state.