Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has hit back amid finger-pointing between the state’s top cop and chief health officer over who suggested the controversial curfew.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Andrews again dodged questions over exactly who came up with the idea – but said he rejected the notion that “the only decisions the government can ever make about any matter are those that have been advised by the chief health officer”.
“The government reserves the right to make decisions to operationalise advice from the chief health officer,” he said.
“The notion that the government can’t do anything whatsoever unless the chief health officer provides it in detailed advice, that doesn’t make any sense.”
It comes after Police Commissioner Shane Patton told ABC Melbourne radio host Virginia Trioli this morning that it was Brett Sutton’s decision to implement the curfew, despite Prof Sutton saying otherwise on Tuesday.
“Decisions are made by groups of people,” Mr Andrews said.
“And I can’t necessarily pinpoint for you the exact individual and the exact moment that it was suggested that we put a curfew on. What I’m saying to you is, anyone who’s displeased with that or doesn’t think that’s a proportionate measure, well, that’s a decision that I’ve made.”
At one point during the combative press conference, a journalist asked, “Premier, can you see how members of the public, though, would see this? That, hey, Brett Sutton has said this, but you’re now saying this – how can we trust you and follow the rules?”
Mr Andrews replied, “What I’d say is that we’ve got a clear strategy, numbers are falling, the strategy is working, limiting movement is a critically important part of that, and our approach to that will not be changing.”
The Premier appeared dismissive of the impact of the curfew.
He said even if it were removed tonight, “the only change would be potentially that you could jog at 11pm, you could maybe go shopping at 11pm tonight if the supermarket were open”.
“That’s not been the case. Supermarkets, whether there was a curfew or not, have limited their trading hours. That’s a decision for them. But ultimately having the curfew simply makes the difficult and critically important job of Victoria Police … much easier.”
Mr Andrews said there were only a small number of “lawful” reasons to leave home anyway.
“That can only happen within curfew hours,” he said.
“So that means going to the supermarket at 8.30pm or 10.30pm or 2am, that’s not an option. So that’s a down side. You wouldn’t be able to go for a jog at 8.30pm, 9.30pm, 10.30pm, midnight. OK, that’s also a down side.”
But Mr Andrews said the down side of “not being able to do those two things in the dead of night is far outweighed, in my judgement, by the fact that we are seeing case numbers fall”.
He added, “The term ‘curfew’ is rather loaded but at the end of the day, it is effective.”
Asked in the interview with the ABC’s Trioli earlier whose decision the curfew was, Mr Patton replied, “Um, as far as I know the chief health officer’s.”
“It was the chief health officer’s?” Trioli said.
“As far as I’m aware,” Mr Patton said.
“It’s in the chief health officer guidelines that were issued on August 2, and the deputy chief health officer has signed those presumably under the direction and with the endorsement of the CHO.”
Professor Sutton told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on Tuesday that the curfew was not introduced based on his medical advice but “it wasn’t something I was against from a public health perspective”.
“I was consulted on it but it was a separate decision-making pathway,” he said.
That sparked a major backlash, with Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien demanding the “captain’s call” curfew be lifted.
Mr Patton told the ABC it was “not for me to comment on what the chief health officer says” when asked about Prof Sutton’s claim that the curfew was not his decision.
“But the reality is we, from a Victoria Police perspective, enforce and support the directions that the CHO makes,” he said.
“We don’t do that until we see a signed and endorsed document from either the CHO himself or one of his deputies, and if it’s signed by his deputy it also has the imprimatur of the CHO, obviously, and we absolutely support all of those directions – this was one of those directions.”
Mr Patton said he was not involved in the decision to implement the curfew, which Mr Andrews said yesterday was brought in because “it makes the job of police much easier”.
Victoria’s 8pm to 5am curfew, something that has never been imposed even during war time, was introduced under the state of disaster declared last month in response to the second wave of COVID-19.
“How did we get (an) 8pm to 5am curfew?” Mr O’Brien said on Twitter. “Not evidence. Not data. Not public health advice. A Daniel Andrews ‘captain’s call’ to lock us down. This curfew should go. And so should Andrews.”
Mr Andrews, who had consistently maintained that all restrictions were based on medical advice from the CHO, was asked on Wednesday whose idea the curfew was.
“I can’t pinpoint the individual and the day, I can’t give you a specific person,” he said, before conceding that ultimately it was his decision.
“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,” he told reporters. “That’s what a curfew delivers.”
Police have issued hundreds of fines for curfew breaches since last month.
RELATED: Follow our live coronavirus updates
RELATED: Labor MP defends Premier’s curfew
Asked about Mr Andrews’ comments the previous day, Mr Patton told the ABC he hadn’t listened to the press conference “but as I say, it’s not a decision that I was involved in, this is a decision that appears in the chief health officer directions, how it came to be there I am unaware”.
“All I can say is that it’s a document containing the directions of the CHO, we act and support the directions of the CHO, and that’s what we’ve done. It’s not a matter Victoria Police was involved in,” he said.
Mr Patton said Victoria Police were only made aware of the guidelines a few hours before they were to be brought in.
“I’ve never been asked about this prior to them being brought in, it was something that was never provided to me in consultation at all or asked about,” he said.
“I made inquiries to be as clear as I can, and I’ve since been made aware our policy area received a copy of these guidelines a couple of hours before they were to be brought in for our information for us to be able to operationalise them – we haven’t had any input into them.”
Asked if he wished he had been consulted, Mr Patton said it was “not a matter for me to wish or anything like that”.
“As I say, the chief health officer is the expert, that’s the person who endorses these guidelines, it’s for us to try and support those guidelines and as far as I’m concerned that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
“I can’t comment what discussions the CHO did or did not have. The fact of the matter is it’s not anything we had input in relation to, and when we see CHO guidelines signed by the CHO or his deputy, it’s not an unreasonable expectation for us to believe that that has the endorsement of the CHO, and on that basis we enforce them.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said last night the 8pm curfew should be lifted if there is “no medical basis” for it.
“So we would like to see all and as many of the restrictions lifted as soon as the medical conditions allow, and if there’s no medical basis for something, then obviously, that’s then something entirely within the remit of the Victorian Government to address and we’d encourage them to consider that in the coming days,” Mr Hunt told Sky News host Chris Kenny.
Mr Hunt said in recent days he, along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, “have been very, very clear that we want to see the health safeguards put in place so as these restrictions, all of the different restrictions, can be lifted as quickly as possible, and there has to be a medical basis for any restriction”.
The Health Minister and the Treasurer both hold Melbourne seats.