Daniel Andrews’ health department could be forced to shell out an unprecedented $95million in fines for its catastrophic hotel quarantine program in 2020, which is linked to the deaths of more than 800 Victorians.
WorkSafe, after a 15-month-long investigation, has charged the state’s health department with 58 health and safety breaches after Covid escaped into the community, causing Melbourne to remain under lockdown for 112 days.
But if found guilty by a tribunal, the ministers and the individuals who made the decision to hire ill-prepared staff will not have to pay a single cent, nor will they be held personally accountable.
Instead, hard-working and long-suffering Victorian taxpayers will likely be the ones footing the bill in the bizarre inter-government legal battle.
Worse yet, the already overwhelmed healthcare system in the Covid-ravaged state may be stripped of vital funding.
Now families who lost loved ones are demanding answers over ‘Victoria’s worst workplace disaster’ as key policymakers narrowly sidestepped the potential for industrial manslaughter charges due to a legal technicality.
Daniel Andrews’ (pictured) health department could be forced to shell out an unprecedented $95million of fines for their catastrophic hotel quarantine program in 2020 after it was linked to the deaths of more than 800 Victorians
A Four Corners investigation showed that some hotel security guards (pictured) fell asleep in the corridor of an undisclosed Melbourne hotel while they were on the job
‘Not one Minister in the Andrews government is likely to face the justice system over Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine program,’ Victorian Liberal Party MP Tim Smith tweeted after the news broke.
‘But Worksafe’s 58 charges laid against Victoria’s health department could result in the taxpayer being liable for fines of up to $95million.’
Where the potential penalty fees are set to end up is also under the spotlight with WorkSafe being a Victorian government agency – but not funded by taxpayer dollars.
WorkSafe stays afloat by charging premiums from WorkCover – insurance employers must pay to fund compensation if their workers are injured on the job.
Should the Victorian Health Department be fined for the hotel quarantine charges, the money will go straight to the coffers of WorkSafe and the government body will use the cash to pay its staff and operating costs, compensate injured workers, and keep WorkSafe premiums down.
Shadow Health Minister Georgie Crozier said Premier Andrews must explain why he and his ministry are not being held to account.
‘This has been a long investigation and after the tragedy that occurred last year, every Victorian wants to see some answers, they want people to be held accountable for that tragic loss and the devastation that occurred,’ she said.
‘Not just with the loss of lives but the extended lockdown, the loss of business, the mental health impacts that have absolutely plagued Victorians.
‘This has been a monumental failure by government – the biggest failure in government administration in the state’s history – and the Premier and the ministers responsible need to be accountable for those failures.’
WorkSafe after a 15-month-long investigation, has charged the state’s health department with 58 health and safety breaches for its bungled quarantine program for returning travellers (pictured, Melbourne Airport in May, 2020)
The bungled hotel quarantine program allowed the coronavirus to escape into the community causing the city to remain under lockdown for 112 days (pictured, the Intercontinental Hotel on April 08, 2021)
Hard-working and long-suffering Victorian taxpayers will actually be the ones footing the bill in the bizarre inter-government legal battle (pictured, the Intercontinental Hotel on April 08, 2021)
Where would the $95.12million in fines go?
WorkSafe is a Victorian Government agency, but is not funded by taxpayer dollars.
Instead it charges premiums from WorkCover, an insurance employers pay to fund compensation to workers injured on the job.
It also levies fines for unsafe work practices and draws income from various investments.
Should the Victorian Health Department be convicted and fined for the hotel quarantine charges, the money will go to WorkSafe.
WorkSafe will use the fine to pay its staff and operating costs, compensate injured workers, and keep WorkSafe premiums down.
WorkSafe alleges the hotel quarantine system put authorised employees and security guards at risk of serious illness or death by contracting Covid between March to July 2020.
The department has been charged with 17 offences of failing to provide a safe working environment.
It has also been hit with 41 charges of failing to ensure employees weren’t exposed to risks to their health and safety.
The maximum penalty for each count is $1.64million bringing the potential financial penalty to $95.12million.
Investigators reviewed tens of thousands of documents and recorded multiple witness interviews with staff.
Among the allegations are that security guards weren’t provided with proper infection control training and were only provided written instructions for the use of PPE rather than a demonstration.
‘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 government authority said in their statement.
WorkSafe weren’t able to pursue industrial manslaughter charges as the tough new laws were introduced on July 1, 2020 just three months before the quarantine program for return travellers was implemented.
At an inquiry in the bungled quarantine program , Ms Mikakos (pictured taking the oath) recalled she did not know private guards were enforcing the scheme until late May
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews swore on the bible when he told an inquiry that he has no idea who decided to use private security to guard returned travellers
At the centre of the hotel scandal was a dispute over who made the decision to use private security staff to man hotel quarantine facilities instead better-trained police and defence force personnel.
When Premier Andrews fronted Victoria’s Covid-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry led by former judge Jennifer Coate in October last year, he denied any knowledge of how the decision was made, along with about a dozen other senior officials.
The state’s health minister at the time Jenny Mikakos and her secretary Kym Peake resigned before the final report was released, with Premier Andrews eventually laying blame at their feet – a fact they both dispute.
When the report was eventually handed down in December, 2020, Judge Coate concluded 90 per cent of the cases from the state’s second wave were linked to the bungled hotel quarantine system.
She referred to the state’s policymaking process ‘an orphan, with no person or department claiming responsibility’.
WorkSafe weren’t able to pursue industrial manslaughter charges as the tough new laws were introduced on July 1, 2020 just three months before the quarantine program for return travellers was implemented (pictured, healthcare workers transport a person from an aged care facility in Melbourne)
The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions were adamant the Health Department were in charge, while they believed they were only responsible for part of the system and that both were in charge of the programs delivery.
But many of the families who lost loved ones during Melbourne’s second wave were unhappy with the final report from Judge Coate as no individuals were ever held to account.
Maria Vasilakis, 81, was among 45 residents at St Basil’s aged care facility who were struck down by the virus.
Her son Spiro said his family have been desperately seeking answers about his mother’s death and are in need of ‘closure’ after the hotel quarantine leaks.
‘(If) you have investigated and you have found the guilty party and made them and held them accountable then, yes, that puts it to rest,’ he told the Herald Sun.
‘As a one-time manager, one of the things that I know is how important training is, you don’t train somebody properly they’re going to do a s**t job.’
At the centre of the hotel scandal was a dispute over who made the decision to use private security staff to man hotel quarantine facilities instead of the police and defence force personnel (pictured, Melbourne health workers at an aged care facility)
Haralambos Bakirtzidis, 79, was another victim who succumbed to the virus and his heartbroken wife of almost 60 years Niki said holding those to account is not about revenge.
‘It (legal action) might make the people who have lost loved ones feel that someone is being held accountable,’ she said. ‘It does make me angry that not enough steps were taken to prevent it escaping into the community.’
Premier Andrews is yet to comment on the matter as the charges against his health department were announced just moments after his daily Covid briefing at 11am.
The first hearing is set to go ahead in the Magistrate’s Court on October 22.