The inquiry into what went wrong in Victoria’s hotel quarantine program has been delayed due to the state’s stage 4 coronavirus restrictions on workplaces.
The board of inquiry, headed by former Family Court judge Jennifer Coate, was due to start hearing evidence tomorrow, but this has now been postponed until August 17.
It was originally due to report by September 25, but will now report in November.
The hearings will be conducted entirely online.
Mr Andrews called the inquiry in June after genomic sequencing revealed a number of coronavirus cases could be linked to “staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well known and well understood infection control protocols”.
International flights into Melbourne were diverted to other state capitals while Corrections Victoria undertook a “reset” of the hotel quarantine program, which has hosted more than 20,000 returned international travellers since the pandemic began.
In a special hearing this afternoon, Ms Coate said she was not willing to risk inquiry staff being exposed to “this highly infectious and dangerous virus that continues to spread daily in our community”.
She also noted there had been delays in the lodging of relevant documents.
Ms Coate said she had planned to be physically present in the hearing room tomorrow along with counsel assisting the inquiry and a number of staff members to hear evidence from three medical and scientific witnesses.
“In the wake of the state of disaster and the stage 4 workplace restrictions announced yesterday and operational at midnight tonight, and in consultation with counsel assisting and the senior staff to the inquiry yesterday, I came to the view that I cannot prioritise proceeding tomorrow in the way intended over the safety of the staff and counsel that would necessarily have to be physically present in our current structure,” she said.
“Whilst this board is neither a court nor a tribunal, I understand that in the wake of the state of disaster being declared and the stage 4 restrictions being activated at midnight tonight, most courts are proposing now to transition almost entirely if not entirely, into virtual hearing rooms consistent with the stage 4 restrictions.
“It is my view that we must now do so too.
“Our advice from the technical support to the inquiry is that this can be done.
“However, that transition involves considerable technological work to be adjusted and familiarisation with how each of us will be required to operate that technology remotely.
“This cannot be achieved satisfactorily by 10:00 am tomorrow.
“I acknowledge this extension of time for reporting will cause frustration and distress to many,” she said.
“I am determined in this inquiry to conduct it with the forensic rigour and completeness that is expected of me and that is the only outcome you should expect,” Ms Coate said.