NOT HAPPY DAN: Andrews’ position under serious strain
The number of cases of coronavirus in Victoria continues to skyrocket, despite the city of Melbourne having been in lockdown for two weeks now, and the death toll is growing.
Damning revelations about the government's bungled hotel quarantine program are emerging on an almost daily basis, contributing to a sharp collapse in support for Premier Daniel Andrews and voter satisfaction in his handling of the COVID-19 crisis generally.
The leadership of Mr Andrews is under significant strain and his long-term political future may hang in the balance. On top of that, his decisions and failings are a matter of life and death.
On Wednesday, the state recorded 484 new confirmed cases of coronavirus - the largest number of any state or territory since the pandemic began, and a growing sign that the stage 3 lockdown isn't slowing the spread.
There were two further deaths, bringing Victoria's toll to 44.
At his daily media briefings, Mr Andrews has repeatedly criticised those Victorians who aren't "doing the right thing", passing some of the blame for the second wave onto faceless citizens who are ignoring the rules and health advice.
But it's increasingly hard to ignore an inconvenient reality: the blame for this worsening disaster rests in part with the Premier and his government.
The devastating failure of Victoria's hotel quarantine program for returned overseas travellers is widely attributed with the enormous second wave of infections that have plunged five million Melburnians into lockdown.
In other states that ran mandatory 14-day quarantine in hotels, a mixture of police and Australian Defence Force personnel were deployed to ensure safety and compliance.
But Victoria decided to chart a different course, contracting private security firms with no tender process, no independent oversight and, as time has starkly illustrated, shocking consequences.
On the ABC program 7.30 Tuesday, more evidence emerged of just how ill-prepared, inadequate and poorly trained those guards were, with one whistleblower saying one contractor recruited security staff via the WhatsApp messaging system.
"I just got told that you need to be here at this certain time and you're going to dress in a certain way and this is your pay rate and that's it," Shayla Shakshi told 7.30.
"We didn't get any training when I got there. We had to put a mask on and gloves on and that was it. It was really like, 'OK, how do I wear a mask? How do I sanitise?'"
It has also emerged that some hotel guards allowed those in quarantine to socialise with others and leave for fast food runs. There were poor hygiene protocols in place and some security staff allegedly had sex with isolating travellers.
On 7.30, Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded that Victoria's approach to hotel quarantine had failed.
"What happened in Victoria is we had an outbreak from quarantine and that riddled through sections of the Melbourne community and it is now escalated to where it is today," Mr Morrison said in an interview with Leigh Sales.
When pressed on whether the use of police and ADF personnel was a firm recommendation of the National Cabinet, and that Mr Andrews ignored it, the PM wouldn't answer directly.
But he confirmed that "certainly military (resources) were always available to all the states to run those services".
Professor Emmanuel Josserand from the University of Technology Sydney is a researcher who has looked at systemic failings in the private security industry and said the Victorian Government's decision to bypass police and ADF officers was a "red flag" from the start.
"And what's interesting is the Victorian Government was aware about the issues (with the security industry)," Professor Josserand said in an interview with ABC News.
"They were actually running a review into the industry and they were looking at raising industry standards, improving safety for employees and the community, they were looking at ensuring workers were paid properly. They launched this review which actually placed them rather ahead of other states, of Federal Government."
The high-stakes nature of securing hotel quarantine sites was inappropriate for private contractors and they shouldn't have been used, he concluded.
Epidemiologists have theorised that the virus likely spread from those hotels, thanks to repeated breaches of guidelines by security guards, and into the community.
Since then, thousands of people have been infected and 18 people have died in 16 days. There are clusters in schools, healthcare facilities and aged care homes.
Precise modelling on the source of the second wave of outbreaks has been completed, but Mr Andrews won't release it publicly - because, he says, there's a judicial inquiry into the quarantine bungle.
Outlining the epidemiology that traces the outbreak back to its original source, conducted by the Doherty Institute, could pre-empt the inquiry's work, Mr Andrews has said.
It's a convenient cover for a potentially devastating failure by ministers and senior public servants, on his watch, with the findings of that probe not due until September.
People aren't stupid. They can see the Premier's "inquiry" tactic for what it is - an ability for him to dodge daily questioning by reporters at press conferences by insisting he's "letting the inquiry run its course".
Perhaps Mr Andrews hopes by September that the second wave will be crushed, Melbourne will reopen and his government will be seen as successful in its handling of the health, economic and social crises.
The persistently high number of new cases despite the lockdown makes that hope wildly optimistic at the moment.
Whatever happens, whatever the political damage, the human cost of dropping the ball won't change - serious illnesses and deaths, of which there will be more to come.
As of now, 54 aged care homes in Victoria have cases of coronavirus, putting their already vulnerable residents at risk. A total of 170 elderly residents and 146 staff members have tested positive.
The continued significant spread in the community is concerning and at his briefing Wednesday, Mr Andrews used data modelling his government commissioned to show that a huge proportion of people who felt sick went out shopping or to work before getting a test, and a proportion did similar after testing and while waiting for results.
It's clear that too many people are complacent and not observing the advice to isolate when sick and get tested immediately, and continue to stay in isolation until the results are in.
Why are Victorians who successfully complied with restrictions and messaging during the first wave suddenly so lax in their responsibilities?
Perhaps some have simply lost faith in Mr Andrews and have stopped listening to him.
The hotel quarantine debacle is the biggest contributor to a loss of support in Mr Andrews, but it's not the only one.
Confusing mixed messages about the wearing of face masks has contributed to an erosion of trust in the Premier and official public health advice.
Just weeks ago, Mr Andrews continued to insist that not only were masks unnecessary, but that wearing one while out and about was wasteful and ineffective.
His chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton echoed the sentiment, saying until recently things like: "Wearing a face mask is not recommended if you are well."
On Sunday, the government announced that face masks would become mandatory at midnight on Wednesday, with fines imposed on those who don't don one when outside.
Handling of the Cedar Meats abattoir outbreak in Brooklyn, Melbourne, was also far from efficient.
More recently, questions have been asked about the significant delay in contact tracing, with some people finding out about interactions with an infected case several days after.
The Victorian Government's decision earlier this month to immediately lockdown nine public housing towers, home to thousands of people, with no notice and very little communication, also earned ire.
Even former Labor leader Bill Shorten criticised the handling of the tower lockdowns, saying people had been put at risk and left without food, medicines and other essentials.
Last week, an Essential poll revealed a significant slump in support for the Andrews Government, with approval for its coronavirus response falling to 23 per cent from 52 per cent in late June.
Following the successful flattening of the curve a few months back, Mr Andrews ranked as one of the most popular leaders in the country, with his approval rating higher than Mr Morrison's on occasion.
The second wave of infection and the stage 3 lockdown of Greater Melbourne saw those fortunes reverse sharply. It now appears that the level of community trust in the Premier is sliding while anger continues to boil over.
Gaining public trust in a crisis is essential. Keeping it is crucial, particularly in one as unpredictable as this, as measures are relaxed and reintroduced and the need to adhere to public health guidelines can be a matter of life and death.
Originally published as Andrews' position under serious strain