Daniel Andrews today clashed with a fired-up journalist who forced him to admit that Victoria’s contract tracing regime ‘will never be perfect’.
The premier was asked by a reporter why a woman who tested positive for coronavirus and had been isolating since 30 July has still not heard from contact tracers 12 days later.
Mr Andrews said he would be ‘happy to follow up’ on that case and insisted that ADF troops and officials were ‘literally going to door to door’ but ‘it is a very, very big task’.
Unsatisfied with the answer, the journalist accused the premier of failing to improve the tracing regime despite weeks of problems.
‘We’ve been asking these exact same questions for weeks, and we keep getting told by yourself and [chief health officer] Brett Sutton that everything is OK and we’re all meeting our targets,’ she said.
Mr Andrews said the ‘data shows’ the state is meeting its contact tracing targets but then admitted that some failures were inevitable.
‘I’m never going to stand here and say that every single person that should have got that phone call, got that phone call.
‘When you’re dealing with this many people, this task… will never be completely perfect.
‘There’ll always be some error. This is humans talking to other humans. It is a massive task.’
Contact tracing is the process of interviewing infected people to find out who they have come into contact with while infectious.
Close contacts are then told to isolate in case they also have the disease.
Victoria’s tracing regime has faced criticism since July amid claims officials have been too slow to interview patients.
The clash came after Mr Andrews was accused of ‘catastrophically’ letting down Victorians after coronavirus escaped from hotel quarantine and sparked the state’s deadly second wave.
In an inquiry hearing on Tuesday morning, shortly after the state updated its COVID-19 casualties with 19 deaths and 331 cases, the Premier repeatedly refused to apologise for the disaster.
Liberal MP Richard Riordan told Mr Andrews: ‘Victorians have trusted you to keep them safe. You have catastrophically let them down. Will you apologise to Victorians?’
Mr Andrews tersely replied: ‘I’m the leader of the government and the leader of the state and I take responsibility for all of the decisions that are made’.
A fired-up Mr Riordan continued to press, saying: ‘Premier, after a month of acknowledged failure in hotel quarantine, nothing has been seen to by you – no admissions by you have been made.’
Mr Andrews said his ‘analysis is completely inaccurate’ and insisted he had set up ‘an appropriate arms-length process chaired by a former judge, not for the avoidance of scrutiny.’
The premier continued describing the inquiry but Mr Riordan cut him off, saying: ‘I don’t want you to continue on that because you’re not answering the question.’
Mr Riordan again asked: ‘Will you apologise for the escape?’ and the premier again dodged the question.
Later in the virtual hearing via Zoom, the premier was asked by Nationals member Danny O’Brien if he regrets ‘the decision to employ private security guards in hotel quarantine’.
He replied: ‘No-one wanted a second wave of the virus. But none of us have the luxury of going back in time.’
Mr O’Brien asked the Premier whose idea it was to man hotel quarantine with private security guards instead of the police and army troops.
Mr Andrews said Australian Defence Force support was not on offer and troops were only used in NSW to transport travellers from airports to hotels.
‘It is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there was hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow someone said no. That’s not, in my judgement, accurate,’ he said.
‘It’s been provided in limited circumstances in NSW, not to provide security as such but to provide transportation from the airport to hotels.’
He said the Victorian government had already been using private security guards for quarantining health workers and vulnerable people before the quarantine program for returned travellers began.
‘It was essentially an extension of a program that we had already stood up. Nothing more, nothing less,’ he said.
Mr Andrews was the first witness called at the second sitting of the Victorian Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s COVID-19 Inquiry on Tuesday.
He last appeared at the hearing on May 12, when the state’s total number of coronavirus cases was 1,509 and just 18 people had died.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has said it is conceivable that all Victoria’s second-wave cases arose from security employed at hotels unwittingly carrying the virus out of quarantine.