Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is facing calls to end the state’s night-time curfew immediately, after it was revealed that the unprecedented restriction was not based on medical advice.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton dramatically threw Mr Andrews under the bus yesterday, making the explosive claim in an interview with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.
Mitchell teed up Professor Sutton by asking if the Victorian Government had ever “introduced something without your advice, or against your advice”.
“No not against my advice, you know, the curfew came in as part of the state of disaster, for example, it wasn’t a state of emergency requirement,” Prof Sutton replied.
“So you know, that was something that was introduced, but it wasn’t something I was against from a public health perspective.”
At his daily press conference on Tuesday, Mr Andrews admitted that the curfew makes “the job of the Victoria Police much easier”.
He was grilled again on Wednesday, asked whose idea the curfew was.
“I can’t pinpoint the individual and the day, I can’t give you a specific person,” he said, again noting “it makes the job of police much easier”.
He added, “If you want to go out and be unlawful now police have got the easiest set of arrangements they have ever had to catch you and fine you. That’s what a curfew delivers.”
Pressed further, Mr Andrews eventually said it was his decision.
“It’s consistent with the health advice,” he said.
“These are decisions ultimately made by me, so the answer to the question (of why there is a curfew) is, I’ve made that decision. It’s a challenging one to make, but it’s effective.”
Hundreds of Victorians have been fined for curfew breaches since last month.
Victoria’s state of emergency was declared on March 16 under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act of 2008, with Prof Sutton, in his role as the top health official, effectively calling the shots.
As the deadly second wave of COVID-19 began to spread, a more wide-ranging state of disaster was declared at the start of August under the Emergency Management Act of 1986, handing the reins to Police Minister Lisa Neville.
In the interview on Tuesday, Mitchell asked whether Prof Sutton was consulted on the 8pm curfew.
“Yeah, I was consulted on it but it was a separate decision-making pathway,” he said.
Mitchell pressed, “Would you have introduced it?”
“In public health directions? I’m not sure,” Prof Sutton said. “I haven’t reflected on it. I think it has been useful. So, you know, if I put my mind to it, probably.”
Asked whether the Government had acted without his advice on anything else, Prof Sutton said no.
“So this suggestion of tensions between you and the Premier, is that incorrect?” Mitchell asked.
Prof Sutton said, “Mm-hmm. It is incorrect.”
The casual revelation sparked outrage from Liberals.
Federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson told Sky News on Wednesday the curfew should be lifted immediately.
“It’s quite clear that it’s not informed by health advice,” he said.
“I think the only measures that should be in place are those that are necessary to protect public health, and it’s clear that that isn’t the case – this is a political decision and a resource-management decision. We’re not here to be slaves of the state – we are free people and I don’t think it’s justified.”
Mr Wilson was pressed on whether he would support the curfew if it was endorsed by the chief health officer, even if not suggested by him.
“What I’m saying is, if it’s not backed up by health advice, we need a very clear explanation about what that reason is because it’s clearly not health,” he said.
“I actually want a basis of reasoning. I think every measure taken should be justified on the basis that it’s necessary to deal with the containment of this virus.”
Mr Wilson said the Premier was using “political whim” to make decisions that were “needlessly suppressing the freedoms of people to go about their daily lives” with “huge consequences”, including to mental health.
On Tuesday, Victoria’s Opposition leader Michael O’Brien reacted angrily.
“So if the (the chief health officer) didn’t recommend a curfew, why the hell did Andrews impose it?” he said.
“Labor caused the second wave through hotel quarantine. Labor’s kept us in it through woeful contact tracing. Victorians are being smashed by the sheer incompetence of this Government.”
Shadow Attorney-General Edward O’Donohue described it as a “shambles”.
“Daniel Andrews needs to answer this, the imposition of a curfew is an enormous erosion of freedom and has never been imposed before in Victoria,” he said.
“Why does it remain in place today if it wasn’t the recommendation of the (chief health officer)?”
State Liberal MP Matthew Guy said, “So the only person who wanted (or) recommended (or) demanded a curfew was Daniel Andrews? There was zero science behind it. What motivation does this maniac have to lock 5.2 million people down with no evidence?”
Fellow MP Tim Smith said they were “extraordinary revelations”.
“The police state curfew that locks people inside their homes from 8pm is not based on medical advice. It’s an arbitrary decision made by that megalomaniac Daniel Andrews,” he said.
Former Premier Jeff Kennett said Victorians had been “consistently misled”.
“Curfew not recommended by (chief health officer),” he said. “Premier says every decision on recommendation of (CHO). Who is telling the truth?”