Premier Daniel Andrews has again been forced to defend his Chief Health Officer after one Liberal frontbencher demanded that the public service investigate Professor Brett Sutton and another accused him of lying to the hotel quarantine inquiry.
The controversy, with the Premier also asked to provide additional answers to the inquiry, overshadowed a positive day with three new COVID-19 cases reported, no lives lost to the virus and the state's rolling 14-day average falling to 6.6.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton arrive for a media briefing last month.Credit:Scott McNaughton
Professor Sutton has been asked by the official inquiry into the state’s hotel quarantine debacle for an additional statement after emails emerged contradicting his evidence about when he became aware of the presence of private security guards at the quarantine hotels.
Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services wrote to the inquiry indicating that Professor Sutton, who denies misleading the inquiry, may have had a role in the decision to withhold the emails from the board of inquiry after they came to light.
Mr Andrews said on Wednesday that if COVID-19 cases numbers stay low for the rest of the week, an easing of restrictions on retail and hospitality in Melbourne could be announced on Sunday, with a period of notice to be given to allow businesses to get their COVID-safe plans ready.
“I’ll be confirming those arrangement hopefully on Sunday,” the Premier said. "And then there’ll be some days where people will be given an opportunity to be ready for that, particularly if this finishes up relating to retail, to bars, restaurants, cafes … they’ll need to be COVID-ready."
Melbourne may also have recorded a rare and globally significant case of a person becoming re-infected with COVID-19, with health authorities unable to determine whether the individual returned a number of false positives or caught the virus twice.
Professor Sutton did not appear at the Premier's daily press briefing on Wednesday and made no public comment.
Mr Andrews said he still had confidence in his Chief Health Officer, with the Premier confirming the inquiry had asked several more questions of him.
“I’ve been asked to answer a few pretty basic questions,” the Premier said. "I'm not changing my evidence.
“I would call it an exercise for completeness sake, if you like.”
Two senior government figures – health minister Jenny Mikakos and the government's most senior public servant Chris Eccles – have resigned after the inquiry heard evidence of their involvement in the hotel quarantine program.
Asked why Professor Sutton has not followed suit, Mr Andrews said he would leave it to the board of inquiry "to make findings or not as they see fit".
"The Chief Health Officer has a very important job to do, he is getting on with that."
The Victorian Liberals sharpened their attacks on Professor Sutton on Wednesday with shadow attorney-general Ed O’Donohue writing to the state’s public service workplace authority seeking an investigation into the Chief Health Officer’s conduct.
Mr O'Donohue told the Victorian Public Service Commissioner that if Professor Sutton is found to have misled the inquiry, he may have contravened the public servants’ code of conduct.
“It should be of the utmost concern that Professor Sutton’s action may have seriously compromised his position, undermined the public confidence in his judgment and potentially community support for government actions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr O'Donohue wrote.
Planning spokesman Tim Smith said his party was very close to calling for Professor Sutton’s resignation, and said the Chief Health Officer’s testimony to the inquiry was "rubbish".
“You can’t tell me that Brett Sutton didn’t know,” Mr Smith said. “I’m sorry, it’s frankly rubbish.”
Liberal leader Michael O’Brien said Professor Sutton had to prove that his testimony to the inquiry was true.
“If the reports are right and he's been involved in a conspiracy to cover up his knowledge of hotel quarantine, then his position is untenable,” Mr O’Brien said.
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