22nd July 2020

As far as we can see, the Heath responders and Police have done a damn good job with COVID despite mismanagement of the Pandemic by the Government; not the frontline workers or the community at large where the Government has essentially placed the blame.

There are a small number of irresponsible citizens, but the overwhelming majority have tried valiantly to unravel the confusing messages to comply with mandated restrictions, which seem to project indecision, inconsistency, and a lack of competency.

Many Victorians will recall the State’s disaster management system called Displan that morphed into Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) in July of 2014.

The EMV was generally seen as a response to the mismanagement of the Black Saturday Fires at the Executive Coordination level. The behaviour of that individual has seen them rightly forever shamed. It is our view the behaviour was so reprehensible that they should have been charged with Misconduct in Public Office and be tried according to the Law.

The risk of another failure, although remote, is not mitigated by the establishment of a new authority, EMV.

It is improbable, but the Emergency Services Commissioner could at some time fail, you can never totally eliminate the risk of the human factor.

We are not suggesting that the Emergency Services Commissioner has failed us during this Pandemic, we can not say that, because he has kept such a low profile,

We are of the view however, that had this role remained vested in the CCP the community would feel safer, and the implementation of the various community management functions would be clearer and more acceptable and effective.

Displan’s sophisticated planning process where the various agencies were clear in their role was the success of Displan, and that was applied through strong lines of responsibility and accountability that served this Sate well.

The establishment of EMV had more to do with politics than a real need. Victoria is the only State that has tried this experiment.

We had a disaster and a monumental failure by an individual; something needed to be done, so that was the something.

The secret to Displan was that the Police, with their entrenched authority, took the coordinating role, and managed the people and the process. The Services applied all their skills to the Disaster, and each responding agency could focus on their job.

The new strategy of VicPol to gain a close connection with the public by allocating geographical areas to individual Police to connect with each community will also play an important role to improve responses to any future disaster. Local knowledge in disasters, as in Policing is pure gold.

What is not widely known, or is ignored by bureaucrats and politicians, is that under Displan, every Commissioned Officer and Station Commander in the Victoria Police were trained for and capable of performing the coordinating function. Therefore, there were many coordinators scattered throughout the community to deal with matters at a local, regional or State level with the overarching oversight of the State-wide coordination by the Chief. The Chief also has line control over these subordinate Officers as well as a command structure to ensure continuity and capability.

The first question we raise is why the coordination roles should not be returned to the CCP, eliminating a layer of bureaucracy, and that can only help with efficiency, critical in emergencies?

We know that the planning for disasters continued with the establishment of EMV but, the application and flawed interpretation of the legislation and the role of a disaster coordinator have caused some very clear principles to evaporate.

In the COVID crisis, the Emergency role has become politicised to the degree that can only be described as extreme.

This raises another question; why are the separation of powers not applied in Emergency management, something the CCP enjoys, but emergency management does not?

It would appear for political reasons the role of the Emergency Services Commissioner has largely been usurped by this Government and has been shared with, or in practical terms, taken over by the Department of Health; not a particular individual, just a Department. This shows an appalling lack of understanding of the roles of each.

Accountability is always the first casualty.

Politicians and bureaucrats have no emergency disaster training, so why are they calling all the operational shots?

A supposed dual responsibility has been established in this COVID disaster, and there are a number of examples where this dual responsibility has failed and none more so than when the Emergency Services Commissioner arranged for Military assistance for Victoria’s quarantine management on the 24th of June only to have the orders rescinded by the now-former Chief Commissioner and politicians. We would argue he was fulfilling his clear and undisputed role under the Act.

We suspect that this was more of a power struggle within Government than a sound decision.

This part of the debacle clearly indicated political or bureaucratic self-serving power plays—the last thing needed in the middle of a Disaster response.

This comment must not be construed to suggest that Health is not a key component to fighting this Pandemic; it is the front line as a Fire Service is in a fire disaster. We would never consider it necessary to create a duopoly to manage a fire disaster, so why do it when the matter is Health-related?

Again, a lack of understanding of the role of an Emergency Services coordinator is the key. People have been making decisions without the appropriate skill sets and knowledge. The Health Department has the training and expertise to respond to the health aspect of the Pandemic, but not manage it.

What is needed is authentic leadership, not mouthpieces who are not leaders.

”Leaders are made, but not all politicians are leaders “– Paul Roos

Those running interference may have thought they knew what they were doing, but thinking and knowing, are a chasm apart, and that chasm is evident in this COVID response.

With all of the above, it may be a surprise to know, given the shambolic approach to the Pandemic, that a Plan exists to respond to an’ Upper respiratory contagion Pandemic’, and that has been in place for a long time, as do plans for every imaginable Disaster that may befall us.

The politicians and their bureaucrats are just not trained in disaster management;

It is hoped that there are enlightened and competent people who will correctly identify the failure and move the role of coordinating and managing disasters to the CCP who is the only person with the depth of management resources capable of dealing with these issues.

The EMV must be abolished, and Emergency Powers transferred back to the CCP so that rapid and effective responses can be deployed and coordinated to address a disaster, whatever that may be.

The money saved can be invested in upskilling Police to a higher level of preparedness.

Until this CCP was appointed, it is entirely understandable why Disaster management was removed from Policing; however, the mistakes of the past appointments are now not likely to be repeated. The movement of the Disaster management role, back to the CCP is sensible and essential.

The real scary bit in the management of this Disaster has been the need for interdepartmental meetings.

If the control of a reaction to a disaster is degraded to need meetings to decide on a response rather than leadership, the system has failed dramatically and profoundly.

Just who was responsible for the failures may likely remain a mystery, probably hidden in the machinations of committees staffed by faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats designed to mask incompetence and avoid accepting blame.

We can hope that the Judicial Inquiry can break through the morass.