‘Drop the spin’: How DHHS tried to stop hotel quarantine reporting

I don’t agree the now former health minister Jenny Mikakos was thrown under a bus. She was the minister in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has resigned.Credit:James Ross

On June 11, two days before The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald ran the first story on hotel quarantine’s failings, DHHS’s top spinner rang to say we were off track and that publishing would be a mistake.

She got the head of Unified Security, Nigel Coppick, to tell us the same. How spectacularly wrong she was.

Should taxpayers fund media advisors to obstruct truth? Why was time and effort dedicated to this instead of fixing the problem before the Stamford Hotel outbreak?

Unified Security’s Nigel Coppick before the hotel quarantine inquiry.

Mikakos’ resignation statement on Saturday reads like she was a victim:“In good conscience, I do not believe that my actions led to [Victoria's second wave].”

Our first article was published on June 13. According to her resignation statement, she didn’t see there was a problem until June 30.

It was her inaction that was the problem.

People usually come to media after their complaints are ignored. This is what happened here.

If we knew there was a problem in early June, why didn’t Ms Mikakos and her department? Why wasn’t swift action taken?

We were continually obstructed on a range of questions.

After the Stamford outbreak, the department refused for days to answer whether the COVID-19 positive staff were guards.

When we asked if the hotel outbreaks could be linked to the second wave, I was given a long explanation as to why this was likely off track.

I was told that irresponsible members of the public were more likely to have passed COVID-19 on to guards who then brought it into the hotel.

This is despite multiple hotel workers already saying there were major infection control problems in all the hotels.

I agree Premier Daniel Andrews is ultimately responsible and should have acted, too. He faces the media almost every day, but he didn’t on June 13.

His government hoped it would all go away, and for almost two weeks it did in the media. But we are in a pandemic, so meanwhile the virus spread through Melbourne.

When second hotel outbreak occurred at the Stamford, the hotel quarantine debacle blew up in the media and an inquiry was called. But problems still existed on the ground.

Whether Mikakos knew about private security is beside the point. Staff complaints about infection control should have been taken seriously and acted upon immediately.

What the department did have time for was to remind staff that they weren't allowed to speak to the media.

Maybe if more effort was spent listening to staff on the ground instead of trying to save face, millions of Melburnians wouldn’t still be stuck in our homes and hundreds of people wouldn’t have died.

Take responsibility. Own it. Drop the spin. It’s infuriating.

Do I feel sorry for Mikakos? Yes. I genuinely think both she and Andrews seem like good people. But I think our political system has become all about optics. Those two didn’t invent this. But it still needs to be called out.

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