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'Gobsmacking... travesty': Liberal MP unleashes on own party's handling of the shutdown


A Liberal MP has broken ranks to lash his Government’s handling of the statewide lockdown, slamming the decision to “pinpoint all of their mistakes on one person”, as South Australia’s Small Business Commissioner demands an independent review and the Adelaide Central Market Authority seeks legal advice about whether traders should be compensated.

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MP for MacKillop Nick McBride told InDaily more “due diligence” and “cross-checking” should have occurred before launching the state into a full lockdown.

His criticism coincides with calls from SA’s Small Business Commissioner, John Chapman, for a full independent review into the shutdown and broader issues of the state’s handling of the pandemic, including exactly how the virus escaped the state’s medi-hotel quarantine system.

McBride said it was “absolutely gobsmacking” to shut the state down the way authorities did.

“It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have gone into lockdown at all but the way that we did without the due diligence, the cross-checking and a little bit of investigation, which could’ve taken hours rather than days, was absolutely gobsmacking,” he said.

Authorities announced a six-day lockdown of SA on Wednesday after they were led to believe a worker at the Stamford Plaza quarantine hotel had contracted the virus after ordering a pizza from a Woodville pizza shop where a security guard from another quarantine hotel – Peppers Waymouth Adelaide – worked a second job.

But two days later, authorities backtracked, announcing the state would come out of lockdown early because they’d discovered the Stamford worker had “lied” and actually worked at the pizza bar.

“I just think to take the word of any one individual and then to hang him out to dry as though he is the total reason for it without the due diligence and the cross-checking, to give consideration that Adelaide was the unluckiest capital in the world to pick up a new strain of the virus that moves faster than any other strain the world has seen before, is absolutely gobsmacking,” McBride said.

“The decision that (took) place on Wednesday was too quick, too heavy-handed without the due diligence and consideration required.”

Authorities have stressed there were “no second chances” and they had to act quickly.

McBride said he would ask them “what would it have cost you if you just did six hours, four hours, 12 hours of due diligence into that one person’s account – remember it’s just one person – to check up that he did stack up, that it was a new variety or strain of the disease”.

“(If) they considered all their options before they locked down the state this whole thing could have been prevented,” he said.

“Once we’d gone into lockdown, full credit to them to actually unravel the lockdown and realise it was based on a lie and mistruth but the damage is done.

“Looking back in the mirror… we need good management for medi-hotels if are we going to continue in that vein and we also need good management in the [contact] traceability and confidence in the traceability that it will work rather than going into full lockdown again.”

McBride is also calling for the makeup of the state’s Transition Committee to be broadened to include greater business and regional representation.

“The Transition Committee needs to represent the whole of society rather than just health outcomes,” he said.

“What’s just rolled out in the last week highlights that the Transition Committee is now not up to the representation that we are required to move forward.”

Commenting on the 20-person police taskforce that is now investigating the Woodville Pizza Bar at the centre of the controversy, McBride said “it’s pinpointing all of their mistakes on one person whereas I think they need to put up a mirror and look at themselves and look at the decision-making process rather than the individual”.

“I think it’s really quite sad that we ended up pinpointing the problem on one person rather than looking back at what’s gone wrong with all our processes and due diligence and how can we do it better in the future,” he said.

“To take the gospel of one person… and to say… this is the reason for the whole lockdown is a real travesty for all those who have suffered in the lockdown.”

McBride said he understood the political risk in speaking out.

He had already raised some of his concerns with the Premier but had been met with “evil glares”.

SA’s Small Business Commissioner John Chapman is calling for an independent review into the lockdown and broader issues of the state’s handling of the pandemic.

“We can apportion blame on who got it right or who got it wrong in terms of the lockdown but we need to go back to the source point and that was the failure in the quarantine hotels,” he told InDaily.

“We need to learn about that, not ‘oh look over there’ (and) divert people’s attentions. These things in my view need to be reviewed independently.”

Chapman said it needed to be a “wide-ranging review” conducted by an “eminent judge, for example, with appropriate powers”.

“We need to properly learn from this,” he said.

“We need to learn from this, go back, learn and revise our procedures.

“We now need to go back and look at what worked, what didn’t, what can we do better and what do we immediately need to do as a state to ensure that if we have another pandemic or this pandemic continues we are best placed to deal with it.”

He also wants the rules relaxed around the second round of $10,000 grants for businesses affected by the pandemic so more can get the help they need following the “devastating impact” of the shutdown.

“The Premier said no to compensation and there are other ways to deal with it,” he said.

“People have been struggling through this and then suddenly to be whacked again with another shutdown, further financial losses… we’re dealing with dozens and dozens of businesses struggling to pay their rent, businesses aren’t able to pay other businesses in terms of supply.

“The ripple effect of this… makes it very, very difficult for businesses.”

McBride said: “If a review is required to find the truth that’s happened in these medi-hotels because it hasn’t been allowed to be exposed or isn’t going to be exposed so we can’t learn from it then a review is going to be an essential process to finding out the answers in that area.”

Business SA has called for compensation for businesses affected by the shutdown but the Premier has said that’s not on the cards at the moment.

Adelaide Central Market Authority Chair Theo Maras told InDaily the board was now considering legal advice about whether traders should be compensated for the shutdown.

“Yes, there’s legal advice being sought for two reasons – one: was it proper for the market to close and secondly, what about all the produce that had to be thrown out?” he said.

“We have a responsibility towards our 76 tenants and we were open when the previous shutdown occurred.

“You can’t stop trading an essential service like the Central Market.”

Responding this afternoon to McBride’s criticisms, Premier Steven Marshall said “we acted very, very swiftly and decisively on the expert health advice and by doing so we avoided a catastrophic situation”.

“There was very clear advice. We did not rely on just a single person’s evidence,” he said.

On Friday, the Premier publicly slammed the Stamford worker, saying he had “lied” and that “the selfish actions of this individual have put our whole state in a very difficult situation… his actions have affected businesses, individuals, family groups and is completely and utterly unacceptable”.

At that same press conference Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the state would not have gone into lockdown if not for the man’s misleading information.

Marshall said today: “We were 99 per cent confident that we were heading for an epidemic in South Australia and that we would have cases numbering around 100 by mid December.”

He said he was “quite aware of people that have different opinions”.

“But I’d just say listen to the expert health advice, that’s what we’ve been doing and it’s kept South Australia safe and our economy strong since,” he said.

On calls for an independent inquiry, the Premier said: “There is an investigation into each new infection which is done within SA Health and I have every confidence that SA Health will do that.”

He said there would also be a broader investigation at some stage into the state’s handling of the pandemic.

“Every time there is an emergency in South Australia one of the things we do as a state is we do have an investigation,” he said.

“I have no doubt there will be an investigation into our response to COVID-19.”

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