At last. On Wednesday evening, the ABC’s 7.30 program discussed the Victorian COVID-19 hotel quarantine inquiry. Headed by former judge Jennifer Coate, it began proceedings on August 17.
This first event was covered by 7.30, which presents itself as Australia’s leading news and current affairs program. And then the inquiry was dropped completely by 7.30 until Wednesday. A stunning misjudgment, on any analysis. Without question, the pandemic is the greatest social and economic disaster to affect Australia in at least a century.
The second wave of the virus, which took off in Melbourne in July, has decimated Victoria and had a deleterious effect on the Australian economy. It was caused by lax security in some designated quarantine hotels in Melbourne. The task of the Coate inquiry is to find out how this happened.
It would be reasonable to expect that a program such as 7.30 would be all over this story. But no. As Victorians were losing their businesses and jobs and suffering not only mental health problems but even death, 7.30 was focused on other issues.
Between August 18 and September 22, 7.30 covered issues such as dirty quarantine hotels in Sydney, cooking in lockdown, the Tasmanian leatherwood honey industry, NSW quarantine hotels (again) and mushrooms in Tasmania. But not one word on the Coate inquiry.
This despite the fact that the evidence provided to the inquiry indicates that the Victorian Labor government, led by Premier Daniel Andrews, is perhaps the most incompetent administration in modern Australian history. Senior politicians and public servants along with police and emergency chiefs have told the inquiry that they either do not know, or cannot remember, what happened in the lead-up to the disaster.
In short, the Andrews government cannot say which individual or organisation made the decision to engage a small NSW private company to undertake perhaps the most important task in the history of the state.
And all this without ensuring the supervision of the poorly trained security personnel by Victoria Police, the Australian Defence Force or even the Victorian Health Department. It’s incompetence on a massive scale.
So what does 7.30 have to say about not covering the top story in Australia for almost six weeks? On Wednesday presenter Leigh Sales finally introduced a segment titled Victorian Hotel Quarantine Inquiry — What Happened and When? She acknowledged that something went “drastically wrong” in Victoria. You can say that again.
Sales concluded her introduction by commenting that “reporter Grace Tobin and producer Nikki Tugwell have spent weeks following the evidence so far”. No doubt this is true. But why did 7.30 not run any of their reports until Wednesday? If viewers in Australia took their news only from ABC TV, they would know virtually nothing about the proceedings of the Coate inquiry. However, if they watched Sky News, they would be aware of what we know so far about the traumatic quarantine fail in Melbourne. It would seem that 7.30’s decision to cover the Coate inquiry on Wednesday was a response to critics.
In his column in The Australian on Monday, Chris Mitchell referred to the fact 7.30 had “ignored hours of evidence” presented to the inquiry that was critical of Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
Then on Sky News, in the News Watch segment of The Bolt Report on Tuesday, it was revealed that 7.30 had not covered the Coate inquiry since the day when it first sat. The only 7.30 mention of the inquiry occurred on September 7 when stand-in presenter Michael Rowland asked Andrews one question about whether he would consider his position if Coate made an adverse finding against him. That was all. None of the evidence before the inquiry was discussed.
On ABC TV’s Media Watch on Monday, presenter Paul Barry led with how a male snake catcher fooled the media by pretending he had removed a deadly reptile from a petrol station in the Melbourne suburb of Nunawading. Really. But Barry showed no interest in the fact 7.30 had ignored Australia’s biggest story for close to six weeks — a part of the media well worth watching.
Some of the ABC’s non-coverage of the Andrews debacle has been quite esoteric. On Thursday, the normally combative Hamish Macdonald interviewed Melbourne Law School professor Kristen Rundle. He asked “how important is it to find out where the (quarantine) decision was made, who it was made by, and why it was made …?” Rundle replied: “What we’re seeing now is that we’re not necessarily going to come to a satisfactory conclusion from this inquiry with respect to this question everyone is asking about who made the decision. I think the uncomfortable answer to that question is there really wasn’t a who and there wasn’t really a decision.”
How about that? According to Rundle, there was not a “who” that made the decision to engage untrained and unqualified private security guards to monitor quarantine. Moreover, “there wasn’t really a decision” made with respect to quarantine. Apparently whatever happened, happened without human intervention. So don’t blame the Andrews government.
The interview continued for 11 minutes without the listeners becoming any wiser. Yet Macdonald seems content with this response. Or perhaps he wasn’t concentrating. A non-academic interpretation of how the COVID-19 debacle occurred was provided by Michael Danby, the former Labor member for Melbourne Ports (now Macnamara). He told the Sky News Sharri program on Sunday that a key problem was “the politically correct socialist-left nostrum seems to pervade some of the public service in Victoria”.
Hence the failure to accept the assistance of the ADF, the preference for diversity over quality and so on. All overridden by the fact the socialist left’s Andrews has prevailed over Labor’s right-wing in Victoria and crushed internal opposition.
But you are not likely to hear any of this on 7.30 while mushrooms grow in Tasmania.