Hotel quarantine charges against Health Department dropped


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The Office of Public Prosecutions chose not to appeal the ruling.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We’re pleased to see this matter resolved, avoiding a lengthy and costly trial in circumstances where there has already been a public inquiry into the hotel quarantine program.”

WorkSafe Victoria had accused the department of 17 occupational health and safety breaches for failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment for employees.

The department was charged with an additional 41 breaches for failing to ensure that non-employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety. Of those, 16 charges were dropped.

“WorkSafe is deeply disappointed by the decision to discontinue criminal proceedings against the Department of Health in relation to the Victorian hotel quarantine program,” a WorkSafe spokesman said.

WorkSafe alleged the department had failed to appoint experts in infection prevention and control at the hotels, to provide proper training to security guards or to provide proper instructions around mask-wearing.

In all charges, WorkSafe alleged Victorian government employees and security guards were put at risk of serious illness or death through contracting COVID-19 from returned travellers, other people working in the hotels or from contaminated surfaces.

A spokesman for the Office of Public Prosecutions said the inadmissible evidence of 10 witnesses had “substantially weakened the prosecution case”.

“As a consequence of the evidentiary ruling, a determination was made that there were not reasonable prospects of conviction in relation to the charges before the court,” the spokesperson said.

The hotel quarantine inquiry found a multitude of failures had contributed to the deaths of 768 people and the infection of 18,000 more.

The charges against the department had followed a 15-month WorkSafe investigation which involved the review of tens of thousands of documents, including those submitted to the inquiry.

Returning travellers catch the Skybus to hotel quarantine.

Returning travellers catch the Skybus to hotel quarantine.Credit: Getty Images

WorkSafe will review the matter to determine whether to provide advice to the Victorian government on legislative changes to prevent government departments avoiding charges through the use of inquiries.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto said the outcome had further eroded Victorians’ expectation of government accountability.

“No matter what the level of the blowout, no matter what the level of the cost is in terms of human life, no one is ever held accountable, they lose confidence in institutions, and they further lose confidence in the government,” he said.

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Pesutto said it appeared all avenues to hold those responsible for hotel quarantine’s failures had been exhausted.

“The sad truth for all Victorians is that after the disaster and the catastrophe of hotel quarantine that saw over 800 people lose their lives, no one – no one – will be held accountable,” he said. “That’s not acceptable in Victoria.”

Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said she was advised that the charges would be dropped on Tuesday but had not been aware of when the decision was made.



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