Former Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos has called for a royal commission into Australia’s pandemic response and called into question the performance of Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
In her first public appearance since resigning under pressure from Premier Daniel Andrews last year, Ms Mikakos reaffirmed her discontent that department officials did not inform her of emerging issues with contact tracing and quarantine hotel protocols during the state’s second wave of COVID-19 infections last year.
She stepped down as minister, and quit State Parliament, in September after Premier Daniel Andrews told the Coate inquiry into Victoria’s troubled hotel quarantine system he believed Ms Mikakos was accountable for the program. She resigned a day later and issued a statement disagreeing with the Premier’s evidence and expressing disappointment at her departmental officials.
Speaking at a parliamentary inquiry on Thursday into the forced closure of a catering business, Ms Mikakos talked broadly about departmental issues and veered into the topic of the state government’s pandemic response.
Asked whether she had confidence in Professor Sutton, she referred to her resignation statement and said there were “clearly matters that my departmental officials should have briefed me on”.
“Clearly when I was referring to officials … I also had Dr Sutton in mind,” she said. “There were clearly circumstances where I felt very frustrated and disappointed.”
Leaks from two Victorian quarantine hotels led to thousands of COVID-19 cases that overwhelmed a paper-based contact tracing system and eventually led to more than 800 deaths. Since then, Victoria’s contact tracing has been vastly improved and hotel leaks have caused dozens of outbreaks in other capital cities.
Ms Mikakos, who served as a Labor MP for more than two decades, backed calls for a federal royal commission to examine the policies implemented to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Several federal Labor MPs as well as the state Liberal Party and former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett also support the idea.