Public service deficiencies laid bare in Hotel Quarantine Inquiry

Illustration: Cathy WilcoxCredit:

The failure in the hotel quarantine system was found by lawyers to be due to a multitude of failures in the state government’s program and a consequence of the inadequate performance of senior public servants (‘‘Devastating failures blamed for virus deaths’’, 29/9). In a broad context this circumstance can be a consequence of the changing role of the public service. The Australian Public Service is governed by the Public Service Act 1999 with a charter of an ‘‘apolitical public service that is efficient and effective in serving the government, the parliament and the Australian public’’ to provide ‘‘frank and fearless advice’’ on questions of public policy.

Over the years the role of the public service in providing non-partisan expert advice on major issues to the government has been whittled away. Politicians can engage biased committees to provide ‘‘expert opinion’’ that fits their needs. Ministers are appointed on a political basis. They are often content-free in relation to knowledge of the discipline of their portfolio, especially in complex areas such as medicine and science.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the deficiencies in the operation of the public service. It did not have the knowledge base to make the right decision about quarantine and it did not utilise the expert opinion that was readily available. The consequences have been dire.
Leigh Ackland, Deepdene

Federal ministers also implicated in failures
The state minister for health had to take responsibility for the inadequate structure and supervision of hotel quarantine. However, we should remember the part played by another Minister for Health and his Minister for Aged Care. Federal government regulated aged care saw the explosion of cases and the majority of deaths. Had it not been for the under-qualified, casual and underpaid staff under their watch, we could have expected the COVID-19 virus would have been contained when it reached this sector. Certainly Mr Colbeck should pay the price, and possibly Mr Hunt also.
Mick Lewin, Southbank

Hysterical obsession in finding somebody to blame
What is truly flabbergasting about the inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine system is not that it did not find who was responsible for hiring private security guards, but that was the central question. After all, every state used private security guards in some capacity, and all states contract out public services to the private sector. Surely the central question should have been why did those contractors who were paid substantial sums of public money to fulfil vital government contracts fail so miserably?

Do we expect ministers to be overseeing security guards’ use of PPE at 3am in the corridors of the Rydges Hotel or is that the job of the employers contracted to perform the task? Many initially successful countries are now entering devastating COVID-19 second waves as Victoria did but in no other jurisdiction can I see such an hysterical obsession with finding a politician to blame.

Most medical experts put Victoria’s experience down to bad luck and admit it could just as easily have happened in any other state. Why then is the commentariat so determined to make whipping boys of Dan Andrews, Jenny Mikakos and other Labor ministers in this disaster when they have tried to fulfil their responsibilities conscientiously?
Charles Shepherd, Brighton

Premier and ministers failed to obtain briefings
Counsel assisting the quarantine inquiry asks why Victoria’s ‘‘three most senior public servants involved in the program failed to properly discharge their obligations to keep their ministers informed’’. Another question must also be answered. That is, why did the Premier and his ministers fail in their obligations to ensure they were fully briefed by their departmental heads and, by questioning and analysis, assure themselves of all crucial components of the program?
Lawrie Bradly, Surrey Hills

THE FORUM

Share the fees, too
Catherine Ford writes (‘‘Roll with this: time to open up golf courses to all’’, 29/9) that golf courses should be open for all ‘‘ramblers’’ to wander on, with golfers kicked off on certain days to allow this. Your ramblers can do this when they pay the fees that golfers pay, either as members or as green fee players, for the enormous cost of maintaining those courses.
Graham Carew, Greensborough

Small price to pay
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of Marian Robinson (Letters, 29/9) as regards the wonderful stories in the Loved and Lost series. The treasured memories of ordinary, yet inspirational, Australians should be acknowledged and shared in these troubling times. Although from diverse backgrounds, their commonality was the respect and enduring love of their families. Their lives should have ended with dignity, surrounded by loved ones. This should serve as a constant reminder of the small price we are all paying, in adhering to the restrictions, to stem the COVID-19 tide.
Edward Combes, Wheelers Hill

Balancing the budget
Whatever happened to the debt crisis and balancing the budget. Why does it have to take a pandemic to remember that governments and taxpayers’ money have always had a role to play not only in protecting, but in also restarting (think post-WW2) and pushing the economy forward (think US space race) and ensuring a just society for all (think Medicare). Isn’t small government small-minded?
Marie Hodgens, Burwood

More questions to ask
Clearly the Victorian government has questions to answer in relation to its handling of the current COVID-19 outbreak. However, more pointedly the Morrison government needs to be held to account regarding its lack of oversight of the private aged care sector. The federal government’s role in ensuring adequate and effective oversight of the private aged care sector seems to have been largely ignored.

The federal government has known the sector, with its largely low-paid, casual workforce, has been under increasing pressure to deliver the type of care expected. Outbreaks of COVID-19 in private aged care facilities across the country have resulted in a disproportionate number of deaths but the government has escaped largely unscathed from criticism.
Jack Morris, Kennington

The dumb country
Pauline Hanson’s motivation for supporting the government’s university funding legislation is ‘‘putting a stop to this Marxist, left-leaning approach to teaching in our universities’’. Straight out of the Morrison playbook. No mention of the estimated $2 billion annual cut to core university research funding, which will effectively abolish the university practice to apply 40 per cent of teaching time to research, so critical to the nation’s future prosperity. As Professor Peter Doherty has said: The proposed changes will only serve to ‘‘diminish’’ academic institutions … if we don’t fund universities ‘‘we’ll look more like a bunch of hicks who dig stuff out of the ground and nothing else’’. Welcome to the dumb country.
Neil Hudson, East Melbourne

Appointment an insult
Trump appoints Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Coney Barrett is a member of a community group called the People of Praise, which believes, among other things, that men are head of the community and have authority over their wives.

What an insult to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s amazing historical legacy.
Sharon Allan, Castlemaine

New direction needed
Mr Albanese says the electorate will know where Labor stands on emissions reduction and climate policy by the next federal election. This will not do. A new direction is required. If Labor is going to take this mantle from the Greens, they will have to believe and if they believe they need to say so. They need to say so very soon because it’s going to take time to sell the new direction. Labor knows there are more jobs in renewables than in coal. They need to have the courage to say so. And to spell out how.
John Gare, Kew East

Live export disgrace
I come from a farming family – I am fourth generation – merino sheep and grain. I know what it means to be a farmer. I’ve been one. I’ve seen it close up. What I’ve also seen close up is the cruelty of the live export trade. It’s a disgrace.

The animals we send overseas endure the most unspeakable horrors. Sometimes we see those horrors revealed – horrors that generate a huge public outcry. But mostly those horrors and the immense cruelty are hidden.

We need to put an end to live export. Don’t buy the line that all farmers support this vile, disgusting trade – they don’t.

I know there are plenty like me – they understand they need to make a living but they’re not prepared to sacrifice decency and their principles by sending animals to horrific deaths.
Anne Leeson, Willetton, WA

Border alert
The PM says Victoria should open up faster, noting that ‘‘at similar case levels NSW was fundamentally open’’. We look forward to similar pressure on (Liberal) SA and NSW Premiers to immediately open their borders to Victoria for the same reason.
Frank McNamara, Ascot Vale

Wrong minister
Now that the media has one pandemic scalp, I’m wondering why we don’t have two. The federal Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck has displayed no interest whatsoever in his portfolio. His appearance before the Royal Commission into Aged Care was appalling. Most Australian deaths from COVID-19 have been in aged care.

Why is this minister still holding his position, when a most dedicated Minister for Health has had to step down? Ms Mikakos was a hard-working minister who showed great interest in her portfolio. Mr Colbeck shows no interest in his. Surely if one needs to go the other needs to go even more.
Eileen Ray, Ascot Vale

Time for climate action
Is the problem with the climate debate the wait for a ‘‘tipping point’’? Political leaders in this country seem to think only in reactionary terms. Maybe unless we reach a ‘‘tipping point’’, no serious action will be taken by our leaders until the gradual decline becomes insurmountable. There is no ‘‘tipping point’’. Maybe we should refrain from using the term and encourage our politicians to do more now.
Lou Piscopo, Ascot Vale

Political whiplash
The Age is to be congratulated for the article (‘‘The trillion-dollar question’’, 29/9). What a clear-headed, succinct and revealing article that endeavours to explain government debt and its consequences. After years of government debt, deficit/surplus debates, finger-pointing blame games and political grandstanding, one thing stands out: ‘‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe in it.’’

The article mentions intellectual whiplash. One hopes that the electorate sees a political whiplash and an end to political point-scoring on the issue.
Peter Roche, Carlton

Wake-up call
Peter Hartcher’s comment (‘‘The third wave of autocracy’’, 29/9) should be a wake-up call to many Australians, but to others the slide down the democracy list is already in motion. John Kerr’s dismissal of the Whitlam government, John Howard’s failure to have badly behaved ministers resign, and Tony Abbott’s years of attrition to destroy Julia Gillard’s workable tenure are examples. The Westminster system is workable only when its protagonists are suitably equipped with morals, integrity and intention to represent the constituents rather than engage in self-promotion, support of vested interests, and re-election moves. Those working to maintain and restore democracy will have their work ahead of them.
John Marks, Werribee

Hopes raised
The modern trend in politics across the globe of power and popularism has left us sceptical. The US example is nothing but abysmal for it represents how bad even our democratic model could become. This contrasts with the unexpected example of our Prime Minister to make a call to all nations to commit to the moral action of making a vaccine equally available to all people.

We expect that from a politician who publicly proclaims his value-shaped faith is core to his way of life, so I ask, is he signalling that he is now comfortable enough in his role to incorporate moral reasoning into his decision-making.

My hope is raised for its effect on the moral issues of climate change, refugees, homelessness, poverty, domestic violence and racism, to name a few.
Geoff Cheong, Aspendale Gardens

Climate responsibility
The Prime Minister addressed the UN advocating the sharing of a coronavirus vaccine, suggesting ‘‘humanity will judge us harshly’’ and invoking notions of moral and global responsibility, while challenging the misinformation campaigns.

It’s a pity he can’t apply the same logic to addressing climate change.
Brenda Tait, Kew

A matter of trust
Why would the Prime Minister Scott Morrison be advocating for the cessation of hotel quarantine in favour of home quarantine for overseas arrivals? If there is anything we have learnt from the pandemic, it is that not all people can be trusted to put the protection of public health above personal desire. It is irresponsible of the Prime Minister to promote this dangerous strategy.
Angela Wallis, Whiteheads Creek

AND ANOTHER THING …

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Coronavirus
We have been good, Dan, so give us a carrot. How about a 10km radius?
Neale Woods, Wattle Glen

I really miss my hairdresser. When I look in the mirror each day ‘‘I See My True Colours Shining Through’’. It’s not a pretty sight.
Annette Bando, East St Kilda

Won’t be long before we witness the rise of the Golfers Rights party.
Paul Miller, Box Hill South

Heads of departments are meant to keep ministers informed but it’s only the minister who has left the building.
Daren Fawkes, Forest Hill

With Dan’s new rules, I spent yesterday hiking and fishing … all within 5km of Camberwell.
Stephen Canterbury, Camberwell

Had senior commanders agreed to police supervision of hotel detention, would the outcomes have been different?
Bill Burns, Bendigo

Credit
The government is giving ‘‘an adrenalin shot to the economy’’ by loosening credit laws. Global Financial Crisis anyone?
Elizabeth Osborne, North Hobart, Tas.

US debate
Biden should offer to take a drug test at the debate, only if Trump is attached to a lie detector.
Ian Dale, Rosebud

Academic freedom
Pauline Hanson is appreciative of Dan Tehan for accepting hers and Malcolm Roberts’ recommendations on academic freedom in universities. Is this the blind leading the blind?
Alan Inchley, Frankston

With senators Hanson and Roberts defining academic freedom (The Age, 29/9), degrees in science denial will soon be available.
Henry Herzog, St Kilda East

Coal driven
Joel Fitzgibbon needs a road map to navigate the Hunter Valley. He keeps steering into coal mines.
Ray Peck, Hawthorn

Finally
Who gave Cardinal Pell a special permit to leave the country?
Hans Paas, Castlemaine

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