MP-led inquiry to investigate contact tracing ‘failures’

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A parliamentary inquiry chaired by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten will investigate Victoria's COVID-19 contact tracing system and how it performed during the deadly second wave.

Upper house MPs passed a motion on Wednesday afternoon to establish the inquiry, with a report due by December 14.

A parliamentary inquiry will examine Victoria’s contact tracing system.Credit:Jason South

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier, who moved the motion, said the second wave of COVID-19 cases occurred only because contact tracers were not able to stem the virus' spread once it seeped out of quarantine hotels.

Ms Crozier said the inquiry would examine the contact tracing system, which was not within the scope of Justice Jennifer Coate's examination of the hotel quarantine scheme.

"This is a really important inquiry," Ms Crozier said.

"Never before has Victoria had such a huge devastation … This parliamentary inquiry will get to the bottom of some of those failures that have occurred.

Opposition health spokeswoman and senior Liberal MP Georgie Crozier.Credit:Justin McManus

"We need to get it right and give Victorians the confidence that contact tracing is fixed."

Ms Patten said she wanted to ensure the state had the best system possible.

"It is my hope that this inquiry will give the public and business confidence that as we open up, we will stay open," she said.

The Coalition wanted an interim report by November 30, and for the parliamentary legal and social issues committee to provide further reports as necessary until December next year. But Labor successfully moved amendments to push the reporting date back.

Reason Party MP Fiona Patten will chair the inquiry. Credit:Joe Armao

Labor's upper house leader Jaclyn Symes said the government understood the importance of the investigation but was concerned about the tight reporting time frame requested by the opposition.

"This gives the department a bit more time to respond to the questions and attend the hearings appropriately while getting over the next few stages [as the state begins reopening]," she said.

Victoria's contact tracing system has come under fire for failing to contain the state's second wave, with the Commonwealth leading the charge against the Andrews government. The state has since moved away from its centralised contact tracing system to establish suburban and regional hubs, replaced its pen-and-paper systems with computers and begun contacting close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases within 36 hours of initial testing.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Victoria’s contact tracing system was the best in the country. Credit:Joe Armao

Victorian authorities have rejected criticisms that the state's contact tracing system was not up to the task, saying the team had been bolstered over the past six months and pointing to the success containing recent outbreaks in Kilmore, Shepparton and Melbourne's north.

On Sunday, after Mr Andrews paused announcements on easing restrictions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt issued a scathing statement about the state's contact tracing system.

"Victoria’s public health systems are either up to the task of dealing with future outbreaks or they are not," it said.

"The decision to keep businesses closed suggests that there is still not sufficient confidence within the government that their systems can support reopening."

With Zach Hope

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