VCAT directions hearing today on secret COVID briefs being fought tooth and nail by Labor

When the Premier and Chief Health Officer slam Victoria shut, Victorians are entitled to see the full reasons. What does Andrews have to hide? 

If the quality of the health advice is so good, why can’t Victorians see it? If the quality of the health advice is shonky, Victorians also deserve to see it.

The four Freedom of Information requests are critical to open government:

  • One initially submitted on 7 July last year for documents relied upon by the Chief Health Officer in making his decisions to impose restrictions on Victorians by way of COVID public health orders;
  • A similar follow up request of 13 July; and
  • A request of 17 July for briefs to the Minister for Health regarding public health orders –
  • All later reduced in scope to only the formal briefings provided to the Chief Health Officer and the formal briefings provided to the Minister for Health.

While all three requests are now more than a year old, Labor has managed to convince VCAT to concurrently hear a fourth application for review of a Freedom of Information request, this one submitted in December 2020, for briefs to the Chief Health Officer regarding public health orders since 9 July.

The first Stay at Home Direction came into effect at midnight 30 March 2020. Under this Direction Victorians were only allowed to leave the house for ‘the four reasons’ (work and education, care, exercise and necessary goods and services). There were already restrictions on public gatherings, schools, entertainment and hospitality venues. Victorians were allowed to re-enter other private homes from 11:59pm 12 May.

During late June 2020 and very early July 2020 Victoria’s second wave took off. COVID-19 infections escaped from hotel quarantine causing the death of over 800 Victorians. Despite these Freedom of Information requests and despite three separate orders for the production of COVID briefs by the Legislative Council in 2020, not a single COVID brief or document relied upon by the Chief Health Officer in making decisions to restrict the activities of Victorians has been made public.

The Premier, when speaking at interview in response to Australian journalist Rachel Baxendale in coverage released on Sky News on Friday 19 February 2021, said:

This is a bit of a word game … To be honest, this is a bit of a word game … The Chief Health Officer, I’m not … I’ll get advice … I’ve not yet got that advice .. Frankly it’s not the number one concern about the Cabinet document … The orders, which are publicly available, are his (the CHO’s) advice, and his signature is on the bottom of them and that’s what was presented to cabinet, and that’s what was agreed. So, the advice has essentially been released, because it is the orders at law, the rules that the chief health officer signed off on.

He seems to be saying that such background briefing documents do not exist and yet these are the very documents the department says are voluminous and will be fighting tooth and nail at VCAT today to keep secret. 

The Andrews Labor government cannot have it both ways.

VCAT phone directions hearing 3.00pm today.

With Labor in government for 18 of the last 22 years in this state, Victorians deserve an accountable government that puts the interests of the community ahead of politics.

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