“Do you know what the Victorian government has done?”

This is what the restaurant owner asked me yesterday when I called to book our family in for our last meal out. Facing business overheads for at least the next six weeks with only limited take-away trade, he told me he may have to close his restaurant for good.

Today, we in Melbourne are back in lock down. After flattening the curve and, together with the rest of the nation, being a success story in minimising the incidence of COVID-19, how on earth did we wind up back here?

If it were not such a devastating situation, the answer would truly be a comedy of errors. Rather than taking responsibility, the Victorian Labor government blames the people they were elected to govern – that Melbournians are somehow more reckless and irresponsible than the rest of the country. Sure there were some reckless actions, but these were allowed under the Victorian government’s watch.

First, the Labor government failed to name the abattoir at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak until it came to light that Cedar Meats had previously made a $15,000 donation to the Labor Party. Premier Andrews tried to shift the blame to the Department of Health and Human Services even when the Chief Health Officer had said the decision to name organisations was for ‘both’ the government and the Department. Then the Labor government allowed a mass Black Lives Matter protest to proceed despite restrictions on public gatherings.

The Victorian government completely denied responsibility for their own decision to hire a shoddy private security company who were untrained for managing a hotel quarantine let alone COVID-19 and ended up spreading the virus.

Instead of early intervention, the Labor government went straight to imposing mandatory home detention on tenants of nine public housing towers without sufficient warning for people to get the essentials like nappies for their children or medication. Bear in mind that for most people to have been eligible for public housing they would have experienced significant trauma in their life or have a disability or suffer mental illness – and it is these people the government locked up without communicating any plan as to what is to happen to those who do test positive for COVID-19.

The malfeasance under Labor’s administration in mismanaging this pandemic now leaves those who had lost jobs or had just returned to employment in continued uncertainty about their economic future.

Businesses that barely survived the first lot of restrictions are contemplating their capacity to survive this second virus wave. Cafes and restaurants that had just re-stocked their fridges with perishable items face significant losses. The flow on effects to suppliers is also massive – many of the businesses forced to close now returning stock which they had just purchased.

From today, big name stores Smiggle, Portmans, Just Jeans and Peter Alexander have already announced they are closing their Melbourne stores indefinitely.

Lines outside of Centrelink show no signs of abating and organisations providing material aid are not coping with demand. Those still employing are being flooded with job applications and many job hunters wonder when they will have the opportunity to regain employment when they are not even receiving an acknowledgement for the applications they are submitting.

Parents and children who struggled last time are already anxious about returning to remote learning next week. People who bought investment properties to rent out to holiday makers are wondering how they are going to pay another mortgage without the anticipated income. And as business shuts down, the impact on consultancy and legal services is profound.

In particular, for those who have lost or have reduced work, for those who were already unemployed and for those living alone, six or more weeks of stage three restrictions without meaningful activity on top of increased financial stress will undoubtedly have a toll on people’s mental wellbeing. But according to Premier Andrews, the situation we Melbournians find ourselves in is of our own making.

After this lockdown, what happens if we have a third wave or fourth wave of infection? The Victorian government had not put in place any risk management procedures before this second wave. If their deplorable inaction continues, the Victorian economy, but more importantly, people’s financial futures could be permanently crippled. We will no longer be talking about recession but depression.

The government has made no moves to boost the capacity of our healthcare system to manage high patient numbers if infection rates continue to rise or come back in further waves. The only solution Premier Andrews has pointed to is a vaccine that may never come. Last night, he tweeted “in the absence of a vaccine, the only way to defeat this virus is to deprive it of what it needs to spread.”

I agree, Premier Andrews – all it needs to spread is you.

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Karina Okotel is a former Vice President of both the Federal and Victorian Divisions of the Liberal Party. She currently lectures post-graduate Law students at The College of Law and previously worked as a Senior Civil Lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid as well as in community law and the international aid sector. Karina has volunteered extensively both locally and overseas on the Thai-Myanmar border and in Uganda where she met her husband.

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