The secret briefings for the lockdowns must be revealed

5 June, 2024

Last week the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) issued a landmark decision, ruling that there is a high public interest in releasing the material that supported the state government’s decisions to proceed with lockdowns.

To date, these recommendations and the briefings used to support them remain secret due to painstaking efforts by the Victorian Department of Health to keep these documents secret, arguing that it would take years to prepare them for release.

However, the court order requires Department officials to proceed with their release.

It is estimated that more than 100 memos amounting to 7000 pages could be made public.

For four years Liberal MP David Davis has been fighting for public access to all the working papers, advice and scientific assessments that supported public health orders throughout the pandemic.

In their effort to keep the documents secret, health ministry officials, including former deputy secretary Jeroen Weimar, argued that implementing the request would require critical resources from the ministry’s 3,400 employees.

They argued that there would be delays in the Department’s communication with the public in terms of public health advice, public health policy development, government briefings, governance and risk management, timely reporting, and management and supervision of officials.

They also argued that the cost of processing the request would amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

In fact, Mr. Weimar estimated that it would take between 169.4 and 208.4 business weeks – or more than four years – for staff to identify and process the documents that are the subject of the information request.

However, the Tribunal was not persuaded, finding that there was no evidence that frontline agencies would be affected or that their resources would be diverted if the information request was processed.

Victorians deserve to understand the full details behind each of the restrictive measures imposed during the pandemic as they were forced to experience the longest lockdowns in the world, had the highest death rate in Australia and suffered the greatest economic loss of any state or territory in Australia.

It therefore seems logical to release all the information on which central decisions on restraint measures during the pandemic were based.

The Ministry of Health has the right to appeal the decision of the Tribunal by the end of this month.  But will it persist in its efforts to deny those who suffered from these draconian measures, the relatives of the victims and the leaders of the future the right to know exactly what happened so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated?

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