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Health Minister tight-lipped in fiery parliament exchange

2 weeks ago 5

Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has again rebuffed questions about her accountability in the state’s botched hotel quarantine program, remaining tight-lipped during a heated question time on Tuesday.

It follows explosive evidence to the inquiry into the scheme that the state’s emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp was directly offered soldiers for hotel quarantine security, contradicting the Government’s claims such help was not available.

Shadow health minister Georgie Crozier asked Ms Mikakos in parliament on Tuesday afternoon: “Minister, Andrew Crisp is heard on recordings from the hotel quarantine hearing today that in setting up the hotel quarantine program he wanted to be … ‘absolutely clear that DHHS was in charge of the operation’.

“So is Mr Crisp correct and is it therefore a fact that you as minister must accept full responsibility under the Westminster accountability?”

Ms Mikakos hit back, saying she was “obviously in parliament” and “not observing the board of inquiry hearings”.

“I have been focused on the pandemic response and will continue to be focused on the pandemic response,” she said.

“I will not be making it my practice to be following the hearings because there is a lot to do, like announcing today the great step forward for regional Victoria.

“As is clear, the government established the board of inquiry headed by former Judge Justice Jennifer Coate to give us all the answers we need as to what went wrong with the hotel quarantine program and it’s important that that inquiry is enabled to do its work thoroughly and to give us those answers without me or others wishing to provide a running commentary of that inquiry.”

The shadow health minister snapped back.

“I’ve been listening to the minister’s response and she’s been going around and around in circles trying to avoid specifics in relation to my question,” Ms Crozier said.

“I ask you (addressing the chair) to draw back to the narrow question about her ministerial ability and whether she agrees with Mr Crisp’s comments.”

Ms Mikakos said the hotel quarantine program was established after a decision of national cabinet.

“The program was established very quickly over the course of a weekend,” she told parliament.

“What I would say is this was a program that was a multi-agency response with shared accountability and I have always made it clear, Ms Crozier, that I accept responsibility for my department.”

Ms Crozier then interjected a second time, “So my question is, is Mr Crisp correct or incorrect?”

“I’ve made it very clear I was not involved in signing off on the government structure or the operational plan of this program,” Ms Mikakos replied.

When questioned about she would appear at the hotel quarantine inquiry, the Health Minister said she had been asked to prepare a statement, but had not yet received a notice to appear.

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