Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien has introduced a no-confidence motion against Daniel Andrews, citing government “failures, cover-ups and lies” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a longwinded speech Mr O’Brien said it brought him “no joy” to move the motion as he detailed a timeline of events from the start of the pandemic.
The Premier was absent from parliament during the attack, with Mr O’Brien citing the bungled hotel quarantine program, the ignored offers of Australian Defence Force support and Melbourne’s harsh lockdown rules as proof of Mr Andrews’ incompetence.
He said coronavirus restrictions — such as the 5km radius and the curfew — had “gone beyond the advice” and Victorians “needed their lives and jobs back”. He also claimed the state was being “held hostage” by the Premier.
With Labor holding a commanding 11-seat majority in the house, the no-confidence motion will almost definitely be voted down.
But Mr O’Brien challenged Labor MPs to “find their voice”.
“Find your conscience, find your heart for Victoria … don’t protect Dan’s job, do the right thing,” he told parliament.
Deputy Premier James Merlino opposed the motion, attacking the move as “deeply political and deeply cynical”.
He defended the Andrews government’s COVID-19 response and slammed Mr O’Brien’s no-confidence vote as “exploiting the tragedy of grieving families and communities”.
“It is a complete disaster when governments don’t take control and let the virus rip,” Mr Merlino told the parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s not about what’s popular, it’s about what is right.
“Only in restricting movement were we able to prevent the spread of the virus. This is how highly contagious and absolutely ruthless the virus is, even now we don’t understand the long-term effects on those who’ve had it.”
Mr Merlino said it’s “not about petty politics”, but about “ driving the virus down” – and then working on a “recovery that will make us stronger than ever before”.
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas was scathing in his opposing of the no-confidence motion.
“It is a baseless attempt to put politics ahead of community safety,” he told the chamber.
“We can’t simply say because you’re sick, old or weak you’re in some way less value to society – that’s what we are fighting for and that’s what this motion seeks to distract Victorians from.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Andrews was grilled about hotel quarantine failures during a fiery Question Time.
Mr O’Brien made particular mention of Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles, who resigned on Monday over the program.
“Premier, given Mr Eccles said he had no involvement with the decision to engage private security guards for quarantine, can the Premier categorically rule out that he or any member of his private office had any involvement whatsoever in that decision?” Mr O’Brien asked.
The Premier could not even finish his first sentence in response to the question before opposing politicians began yelling out their disagreement.
“I’ve given evidence under that oath to exactly that end so … it would suit those opposite interjecting to actually look at the question that was asked and the answer that was given. If you’ve done so little homework than I’ve got nothing to add to my answers,” Mr Andrews said.
Mr O’Brien continued: “In his resignation statement yesterday Chris Eccles said, ‘My evidence is emphatic for neither myself nor the Department of Cabinet and Premier (DCP) made a decision to use private security as part of the hotel quarantine program.’ However on 27 March at 1.22pm chief commissioner Graham Ashton texted his Australian Federal Police counterpart Reece Kershaw – having just spoken with Chris Eccles – noting quote ‘private security will be used I think, that’s the deal set up by our DPC’.
“Premier, isn’t it a fact that the only office with the authority to inform DPC private security will be used instead of police is your private office?”
The Premier’s blunt reply of “no” caused the chamber to erupt in laughter and triggered a harsh response from Mr Andrews.
“Let the record reflect that this is a laughing matter apparently,” he told the chamber.
“These are laughing matters. Public safety and the sacrifice Victorians are making are matters of mirth, a matter of humour … those opposite ought to reflect on their laughter.”
After many points of orders, the Premier was then instructed to provide a ministerial statement.
“I am very grateful for the call and to be able to inform Victorians there are just 12 new cases in Victoria since the update provided yesterday,” he said.
The Premier went on to say his government’s response in bringing down infections from the height of the second wave would prompt an easing of restrictions on Sunday.
“Shouting doesn’t work – it doesn’t have any impact. Neither does cheap politics. It’s the hard work of Victorians … that’s why this Sunday we’ll be able to adjust our settings and give people some freedoms they’ve not been able to enjoy, connecting with loved ones they’ve missed the most,” Mr Andrews said.
Mr O’Brien asked if the Premier would concede his centralisation of power around himself created mistakes that led to the state’s second wave of COVID-19 infections.
“I’ll make no such concession because it’s simply not right,” Mr Andrews replied.