The Victorian government has been accused of attempting to shift blame for its persistent Covid failings to the Federal Government after ministers demanded more money from the rest of the country to fund their fourth lockdown.
Acting Premier James Merlino on Monday said seven million Victorians would not be locked down if the Federal Government had rolled out the vaccine faster and built dedicated camp-style quarantine facilities for travellers from high-risk countries.
His accusation came after state treasurer Tim Pallas demanded a federal bailout for crippled businesses and stood-down workers, describing Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to not pay wage subsidies or give new grants as ‘nothing short of a disgrace’.
But Opposition MPs told Daily Mail Australia that blaming the Federal Government is just a ‘conjuring trick’ to distract from the Labor government’s own failings throughout the pandemic.
The dispute came as officials refused to rule out extending the seven-day lockdown as the outbreak which originated in a quarantine hotel in Adelaide swelled to 51 cases, including an aged care resident and three workers across two facilities.
Aged care staff at Royal Freemasons Coppin Centre receive COVID tests in the carpark on Monday. Victoria is enduring day four of a seven-day lockdown
The Liberal-National Opposition believes the Victorian government – the only one in the country to put its whole state through four lockdowns – should be stumping up more cash to help stricken businesses and has pointed to several failures that have contributed to the latest shutdown.
Those include not implementing a uniform QR code check-in system until Friday, six months later than New South Wales – and overseeing a struggling contact tracing regime which desperately recruited university students on the eve of lockdown on Thursday.
The Labor government has also been criticised after it emerged quarantine boss Matiu Bush, who was suspended for allegedly refusing a Covid-19 test, is under investigation for hiring two gym trainers on $100,000 salaries to work as site leads in the quarantine program.
And during the first four days of the lockdown, further failings in Victoria’s pandemic response have been exposed.
While north of the border NSW has an orderly and efficient internet booking system for getting the vaccine, Victoria is relying on a phone hotline, which crashed on Friday due to demand.
The state is now rushing a new jab booking website, like NSW has had in place for at least a month. But that system was accidentally set live during the testing phase on Saturday night.
Then on Saturday morning, hundreds were turned away from jab centres because the log-in system crashed.
Ghost-town: Melbourne was eerily quiet on Monday morning as residents stayed at home under the orders of the state government
People line up outside the Melbourne Exhibition Centre to get their Covid-19 vaccines on Friday
Medical experts have also questioned the state government’s ‘unsustainable’ elimination strategy and preference for ‘total lockdown’, rather than localised restrictions, which has crippled thousands of regional businesses, despite no cases being recorded outside Melbourne.
Victorian Liberal MP James Newbury said Australians in other parts of the country should not be asked to bail out a struggling state government.
‘The Federal Government’s job isn’t to bail out failed State Governments, especially when they have tipped more money into Victoria than any other State,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The Victorian Labor Government has failed at contact tracing, bringing in a State QR Code, running a central hotline, and operating a vaccine computer system.
‘Instead of owning up to these failures, Acting Premier Merlino has done a conjuring smoke and mirrors trick, and told Victorians to blame the Federal Government. What an outrageous attempt at misdirection.
‘Instead of cheap parkour tricks, Labor should just admit they have locked down the State because they can’t trust their own systems to manage the virus,’ he said.
The federal government says it has already provided $46 billion to Victoria over the course of the pandemic, the highest amount to any jurisdiction and three times more than the state government’s $15 billion contribution.
Victoria’s alleged Covid-19 failings
1. Struggling contact tracing system
2. No uniform QR code until Friday
3. Covid hotline crashed
4. Vaccine log-in system crashed
5. Not enough business support
6. Blaming federal government
7. No message of support from Dan Andrews
Source: State opposition MPs
Mr Morrison said on Sunday that if a state wants a lockdown then they must pay for the consequences – just as Queensland and Western Australia have done this year.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal response to the Victorian outbreak has been ‘fair and appropriate’.
LNP Senator Matt Canavan said the Victorian government should not demand money when it was locking down areas of regional Victoria with no cases.
‘If the government wants to make decisions about locking down the entire state, and then just send the bill to the Commonwealth, that is not good enough,’ he told the ABC.
‘They need to actually have a consistent definition of hot spot because there doesn’t seem to be an explanation why they have lockdown the whole state, there are no cases in regional Victoria.
‘It clearly does not meet the definition of a hot spot. That is under the current National Cabinet guidelines. The Victorian government needs to explain why they are not adhering to those guidelines.
‘While they are not are adhering to those agreed-upon guidelines, it is a little bit rich to come in and say we want Canberra to bail us out for the decisions we are making completely inconsistent with the guidelines.’
Mr Newbury also took a swipe at absent premier Daniel Andrews – who is recovering from a broken back – for not sharing a message of support to Victorians during the lockdown.
‘As we start lockdown day four, many want to know why Dan still hasn’t done the decent thing and offered his support to our community,’ he said.
Mr Andrews has not posted on Twitter or Instagram since providing an update on his health on April 18.
Meanwhile, Opposition MPs say the state government’s $250 million plan to provide grants of either $2,500 or $3,500 to 90,000 locked-down businesses is inadequate.
Liberal MP Tim Smith described the package as a ‘sick joke’ and said more support should be offered.
‘The state government failed contact tracing and QR codes yet again and they’re attempting to blame everyone else,’ he said.
‘The state government’s support is woefully insufficient. Maybe now as the state govt has to pay for its own lockdown they’ll improve their public health response.’
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said 87 per cent of businesses suffering through the lockdown would receive no support at all.
‘That’s a risk to the recovery that Victorians have worked so hard for. I’ll back small business and local jobs,’ he said.
Mr Merlino insists it is unfair to blame the state government for the latest outbreak, which he warned would get worse before it gets better.
He has pointed out that it stemmed from a returned traveller who caught the virus in quarantine in Adelaide before flying to Melbourne and testing positive, meaning Victoria’s quarantine system is not to blame.
Mr Merlino has blamed the Federal Government for not building safer quarantine facilities similar to the Howard Springs camp which has suffered zero leaks – and has demanded a faster vaccine rollout.
‘We would be in a very different world if we had a successful rollout of the Commonwealth’s vaccination program,’ he said on Monday.
‘It would be a very different world if we had alongside hotel quarantine alternative quarantine arrangements for our highest risk cohorts that travel in from overseas.’
But business owners have also slammed the Labor government, including Jim Penman, the founder of lawn-mowing business Jim’s Mowing, who said the fourth lockdown would ‘destroy businesses and lives.’
Lucas Restaurants CEO Chris Lucas roasted the state government’s financial support as a ‘kick in the guts’ and said Labor should stop blaming the federal government.
‘We cant expect taxpayers around the country to pay for our problems here in Victoria,’ he told Sky News on Monday morning.
Earlier, Mr Lucas had savaged the government over its QR code and contact tracing failures.
Victoria is bracing for an extended lockdown with 40 infected, more than 180 exposure sites, and another looming aged care disaster
How has the Victorian government responded to its alleged failings?
On lack of uniform QR code until Friday: Testing commander Jeroen Weimar said: ‘We have said over a number of weeks recently, we have been concerned at low levels of compliance, people not checking in with whatever system is being used… The change we made to our QR code system was a number of weeks ago now and makes it easier for people to comply and get hold of the data.’
On the coronavirus hotline crash: Acting Premier James Merlino said: ‘We are bringing more resources in to the hotline. We will more than double the number of operators in the coming time.’
On vaccine centre log-in glitch: Mr Weimar said the issue was sorted by 10.30am on Saturday, adding: ‘If you’re in a queue, we want to make sure you get vaccinated that day, we do not want people waiting in a queue all day and then not actually making it by the end of the day.’
On accidental setting live of vaccine booking website: A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Anyone who booked online during the test will have their bookings honoured – and we look forward to seeing you there.’
On business support: Treasurer Tim Pallas blamed the federal government for inadequate support, describing Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to not pay wage subsidies or give new grants as ‘nothing short of a disgrace’.
On Victoria being the ‘capital of outbreaks and lockdowns: Mr Merlino blamed the federal government, saying: ‘We would be in a very different world if we had a successful rollout of the Commonwealth’s vaccination program. It would be a very different world if we had alongside hotel quarantine alternative quarantine arrangements for our highest risk cohorts that travel in from overseas.’
On why Victoria has state-wide lockdown unlike other states: Mr Merlino said: ‘Every outbreak is different. Everyone who is positive with COVID-19, many do not transmit. Some transmit and are highly infectious. That is the nature of this global pandemic. We’ve had an outbreak from South Australia, travelled to Victoria, and now we are dealing with this outbreak.’
‘We’re now facing in fourth lockdown and it’s very, very devastating,’ he told the Today show.
‘Why has it taken months for us to get a standardised QR code system, when we could’ve very easily picked up the system from NSW or Queensland, almost a year ago?’ he asked.
‘Why has it taken almost a week for government to work out that they had told everyone that a hotspot supermarket was in fact the wrong supermarket?
‘Why is it that our contact tracers constantly seem to be a week or two behind the eight ball?’
Health officials wrongly listed Woolworths Epping instead of Woolworths Epping North as a Covid-19 exposure site on May 11 in the early stages of the latest outbreak.
Mr Lucas also hit out at the Victorian government’s tendency to send Melbourne or the whole state into lockdown over a few cases, whereas other states prefer localised restrictions in infected suburbs.
‘Why is it that the State Government constantly reaches out for the lockdown mechanism when states like NSW are able to quarantine properly, are able to cordon off small suburbs or areas of the city, and be able to keep the state still afloat?’ he said.
Suspended quarantine boss Matiu Bush
Residents in the northern section of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, for example, spent three weeks under stay-at-home restrictions over the Christmas period after a coronavirus outbreak – but the rest of NSW was not locked down.
Professor Peter Collignon, of the Australian National University, also said the state-wide lockdown appeared to be excessive.
‘Lockdowns have a lot of economic and social cost. If you pull the trigger too early you have the cost without necessarily having a better outcome,’ he told Daily Mail Australia on Friday.
Speaking about short lockdowns in other states and New Zealand over the past year, Professor Collignon said: ‘None of those have prevented transmission any more than good case finding and testing.
‘I can’t see how any of these short lockdowns have made much difference and they’ve brought a lot of social and economic cost, particularly a state-wide lockdown. It’s the extent of it as well.’
On Monday afternoon Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak was on the brink of spiralling out of control after four aged care homes were exposed to the virus.
A resident at the Arcare facility in Maidstone, Melbourne caught the virus after an infected staffer worked while infectious, with another worker also testing positive on Monday.
The staff member, despite working with vulnerable people and being eligible for the jabs since February, was not vaccinated and the resident has only had their first jab.
An escalating situation in aged care could see Victoria facing an extended lockdown as its cluster swelled to 51 on Monday, with 279 exposure sites.
The elderly resident and second Arcare staffer are thought to be among the five new cases reported on Monday, as well as a separate care home worker at BlueCross Western Gardens.
A further two aged care homes, Royal Freemans Coppin Centre and Royal Freemasons Footscray, have also been exposed as its workers are close contacts of the Arcare staffer.
Health bosses are holding their breath waiting for more test results from the nursing homes, with all four in lockdown and residents confined to their rooms.
Of Australia’s 910 Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began, three-quarters have been linked to aged care.
The Arcare employee, who is in her 50s, was infectious for two days while she worked at the facility before testing positive on Saturday.
Contact tracers have been scrambling work out how she caught the virus because she has no known links to Victoria’s other infections, which are all linked to one another.
She is a close contact of the Western Gardens worker who has since tested positive, as well as the two Royal Freemasons workers, whose tests are still being processed.
University of South Australia chair of epidemiology Adrian Esterman said the next 48 hours will be critical in determining whether vulnerable residents were at risk, and whether the state’s seven-day lockdown will be extended.
One aged care resident at Arcare is seen in her room on Monday morning (pictured) as all living in the facility were plunged into isolation – with two already testing positive