Public prosecutor set to join WorkSafe’s investigation into deadly hotel quarantine scheme

A year-long investigation into Victoria’s deadly hotel quarantine scheme has taken a major step towards potential charges amid calls for justice.

A year-long workplace investigation into the state’s disastrous hotel quarantine system has been referred to Victoria’s public prosecutor to test whether charges should be pursued.

WorkSafe opened a probe in the middle of last year into whether departments, security guards ministers or hotels should be charged for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A complaint was later lodged by Self Employed Australia director Ken Phillips calling for a range of individuals to be prosecuted under the Act — including Premier Daniel Andrews.

The matter was lodged after COVID-19 infection control breaches at hotels used to quarantine returned travellers sparked a state lockdown and led to more than 800 deaths.

Mr Phillips’s matter has been progressed to the Director of Public Prosecutions because nine months has elapsed since it was raised.
In a letter to the businessman, seen by the Herald Sun, WorkSafe’s executive director of health and safety Julie Nielsen said the watchdog’s investigation was “ongoing” but that the DPP could now be brought into the matter on request.

Mr Phillips said he would refer it to the DPP, Kerri Judd QC, to try to ensure justice was served to those responsible for a scheme that led to 801 deaths.

“We’re dealing with the largest mass deaths from one event in Victoria’s history,” he said.

Questioning whether WorkSafe was “manoeuvring to protect people”, Mr Phillips said the “clock is ticking” on whether to pursue charges.

This is because under legislation WorkSafe has two years to progress matters — unless it gets permission to extend.

“If by then there has been no prosecution, can WorkSafe effectively kill off justice by just doing nothing?” he said.

“This is about justice for the 801 people who died, their families, friends and the people of Victoria. It’s about the integrity of the Work Safety and justice system in Victoria.”

Opposition industrial relations spokesman Tim Smith said it was remarkable no one had been held accountable for “the greatest public administration failure in Victoria’s peacetime history”.

In the letter to Mr Phillips, WorkSafe says its investigation into the initial iteration of the hotel quarantine scheme will continue and extra material could be made available to the DPP on request.

“At this point, I would like to reassure you that our investigation is progressing in a timely and efficient manner, noting it is not unusual for complex investigations to take up to two years to complete.”

“Criminal prosecutions for indictable matters must be commenced within two years of the alleged offence or offences first coming to the notice of WorkSafe.”

A WorkSafe spokesman said that the investigation involved a number of duty holders and was complex, comparing it to the Hazlewood mine fire and West Footscray factory fire which both took well over 400 days.

“WorkSafe’s investigation into workplaces associated with the initial hotel quarantine program is continuing, noting complex investigations can take up to two years to complete,” he said.

“This investigation commenced in July 2020, prior to any requests to prosecute under section 131 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

WorkSafe’s investigators are conscious of the need to complete the investigation promptly, without compromising the necessary standards of quality the community expects.”

Source: Herald Sun

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