COVID-19

Andrews government’s Covid cover-up exposed

After a fight to expose the truth, the Herald Sun can ­reveal a secret Supreme Court ruling has confirmed personal information shared with contact tracers or through QR codes does not have “absolute protection”.For two years, contact tracers have explicitly told Victorians that any details they divulge will be used only for public health purposes.But the ruling means companies, crime-fighting agencies and authorities such as WorkCover could apply to the court to access the data.The Herald Sun can also ­reveal that Covid commander Jeroen Weimar launched a legal bid to have the court case kept secret for five years to stop the damaging revelation being made public.Affidavit for contact tracingDocuments obtained by the Herald Sun show Mr Weimar argued to the court that public confidence in the state’s contact tracing system was more important than telling Victorians about the threat their personal information could be obtained by others.Mr Weimar even acknowledged if the Department of Health was ordered to hand over people’s private information then his team’s assurances they would not share data “would not have been ­accurate”.“We explain at some length that this information is confidential to the department … it’s a very clear statement,” he said.He later added: “If we are required to divulge this information to another party, which to my knowledge we have never done, then that statement would not have been correct when we made it.”The admission came as the department applied to the court to stop the Victorian WorkCover Authority seeking access to contact tracing information as part of its probe into the state’s bungled hotel quarantine program.Details of the case were suppressed for almost six months, but the Herald Sun late last week obtained access to hundreds of pages of documents.FURY AT SHOCK REVELATIONSShadow Attorney-General Matt Bach said the government needed to immediately provide a “truthful reckoning” to the Victorian public.Mr Bach slammed the state as having betrayed the trust of the community, but said the Herald Sun’s revelations didn’t come as a shock.“It should come as a shock, but because of what we’ve been through, and because Victorians have been lied to time and time again, but I’m afraid I’m not shocked anymore,” he told the Herald Sun.“People should be shocked and appalled. We should never become accustomed to this level of dishonesty.”Mr Bach accused the government of having “definitely” known they couldn’t keep their promise to the public of keeping QR code data and contact tracing material private.“It’s totally unacceptable that the government repeatedly reassured that private data would be safe,” he said.“That was a lie. Let’s call it out for what it was.“When the government got absolutely unequivocal information from a Supreme Court justice, it embarked on a squalid cover up, which in my mind, was worse than the lie in the first place.”Mr Bach urged people to continue to follow public health restrictions despite the “critical story” being uncovered, but said “many reasonable Victorians” would be thinking twice about handing over their details.“My view all along is that if the government had sought to educate, explain and reason with Victorians, we would have seen very high compliance. Instead what the government did at every turn was bully and blame Victorians. These revelations could lead reasonable Victorians to now think twice about checking in,” he said.“The government has an obligation to come out and come clean. There’s such a trust deficit now between so many Victorians and their government because of what’s occurred throughout the pandemic.“A truthful reckoning today, with no spin and no more lies, is vital to then rebuild that trust.” Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday morning said Victorians could be rightly “concerned” about the explosive revelations. “I can understand why people are concerned by that given some of the commitments that were made,” he said.Mr Frydenberg said QR codes were a vital tool in the nation’s defence against the pandemic.“QR codes are a way of being able to know who has been in a particular facility or a particular cafe or restaurant,” he told 3AW.“It’s just one of those health restrictions. By having QR codes and masks you can avoid some of the other more stricter health restrictions and you can live with the virus.“We’re going to have to adapt as we go. The Omicron variant is not the first, nor will it be the last.”Conor O’Beirne, of Thomson Geer law firm, said the revelations made it “theoretically possible” for organisations to attempt to access QR code data.“It’s particularly relevant to a government agency,” he said.Mr O’Beirne, who worked alongside the Herald Sun to expose the case, told 3AW that the Department of Health was “adamant” that the case should remain suppressed from the public.He said the government remained “very concerned” that people would refuse to check-in to places, if it became known that their personal data was not protected.The VWA, also known as WorkSafe, demanded late last year that the Department of Health hand over the personal information of guests, staff and security guards at the Rydges Hotel Carlton and the Stamford Hotel Melbourne – the source of outbreaks that seeded Victoria’s devastating second wave.As the department pushed for the case to be suppressed, documents reveal that Marcus Hoyne, acting for VWA, ­argued the court should not ­assist the public being misled.Supreme Court JudgmentHe accused the department of seeking the suppression “to prevent the public from knowing the true story that information provided through contact tracing may have to be disclosed”.“People should not be misled into believing their information is confidential when it might not be,” he said.Small Business Australia, whose members have been ­ordered to ensure patrons check in using the QR codes, said the revelation is “another example of why trust in the Victorian government is at an all-time low”.“They say one thing, do another and then spend as much taxpayer money as they can in the courts in an effort to cover up their deceit,” executive ­director Bill Lang said.“Victorians deserve a government that is truthful, does what it says it will do and operates with integrity, not a government that blatantly and actively deceives and then uses every mechanism at its disposal to hide the truth from the public.”The revelation will increase pressure on the Andrews government to further guarantee the protection of Victorians’ personal information.In Western Australia, legislation was launched in June last year to stop third parties accessing its contact tracing data after it was revealed police had used information collected from the SafeWA app as part of criminal investigations.Victoria Police has previously asked health authorities for access to contact tracing information but has been knocked back.

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