Victorian Government Charged Over Hotel Quarantine Safety Breaches

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Hotel quarantine COVID

Victoria’s workplace safety watchdog has charged the State Government with 58 breaches over its hotel quarantine fiasco last year, and the Department of Health now faces fines of up to $1.64 million dollars.

The charges relate to the state government’s hotel quarantine program, set up between March and July 2020, overseen by the Victorian Department of Health.

Investigations have concluded that Covid-19 outbreaks at Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza Hotel in Melbourne where returned travellers were being quarantined, led to 99% of Victoria’s second wave of Covid-19 cases and 801 deaths.

Amongst the allegations are that the Department of Health breached Occupation Health and Safety laws by failing to appoint people with infection prevention and control expertise to be stationed at the hotels.

WorkSafe also alleges that the Department failed to provide security guards with face-to-face infection prevention control training by a person with the appropriate expertise prior to them starting work, and that it “either failed or initially failed” to provide written instructions for the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) to workers.

WorkSafe to prosecute

In a statement released to media, Worksafe says that:

“In all charges, WorkSafe alleges that Department of Health employees, Victorian Government Authorised Officers on secondment, or security guards were put at risk of serious illness or death through contracting Covid-19 from an infected returned traveller, another person working in the hotels or from a contaminated surface.”

“The decision to prosecute has been made in accordance with WorkSafe‘s General Prosecution Guidelines, which require WorkSafe to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether bringing a prosecution is in the public interest.”

The investigation, which also included hotels, security firms and other Government departments and agencies, has taken 15 months to complete. The matter has now been listed in the Magistrates Court. An initial hearing date is set down for October 22, 2021.

The Victorian Hotel quarantine programme has been the subject of a number of inquiries. It reportedly cost $195 million, and taxpayer funds will now be used to pay the bill for it’s considerable failures, should any penalties subsequently be imposed by the court.

Governments must be held accountable

Many Australians are starting to question Governments’ pandemic management, and whether taxpayer money could have been more wisely used.

The case of Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine is just one example — taxpayer funds paid for hotel quarantine, paid for it to be investigated, and will pay the fines, if any breaches are proven.

In recent days, the QLD Government has been reported to the state’s Human Rights Commission over inconsistencies in border closures that have favoured sports stars and celebrities over real Australians trying to get home, seek medical treatment or to reunite with family members.

In NSW there are currently a number of cases before the courts which challenge the directive for mandated vaccinations by NSW Health. A class action over the Ruby Princess catastrophe, is also still before the courts.

While there was no ‘text book solution’ for our leaders to follow in dealing with Covid-19, it’s important that they are held accountable for poor decisions, even those made at a time of crisis. Unfortunately, tax payers will ultimately foot the bill.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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