Sutton’s career in balance as the hotel quarantine saga is entering...

“So I recommend canceling the rest of the Australian Grand Prix as soon as possible,” wrote Professor Sutton in the previously unpublished advice of Age under freedom of information laws. He added that alternatively, the public health risk of hosting the event could be mitigated by keeping the gates closed and the cars driving an abandoned circuit.

Within two hours, Prime Minister Daniel Andrews resigned from a COAG meeting in western Sydney and made the advice public. The lights in Albert Park never went green. Professor Sutton, a little-known public health officer in his first year of service, had stalled a $ 8 billion global motor sport.

After Professor Sutton gave his advice, the race organizers canceled the Australian Grand Prix.Recognition:Joe Armao

Compare that to Professor Sutton’s inaction two weeks later, when Victoria and other states and territories blocked coronavirus imports by subjecting returned travelers to mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine.

Professor Sutton told the Coate investigation that he was not directly involved in planning, approving, or running Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, had no personal involvement in implementing infection prevention and control precautions, and was only experienced after the virus outbreak that private security guards were deployed to hotels.

Professor Sutton’s apparent detachment from what was happening in these hotels was so great that he “didn’t know the details enough” to get an idea of ​​whether or not the program was set up properly, he told the investigation.

The Coate investigation, armed with late-draft e-mails that appear to contradict aspects of this affidavit, this week announced its intention to ask Professor Sutton additional questions. His responses could determine whether he continues to lead Victoria’s public health response to the pandemic.

As he prepares his response, written communications obtained through the FOI between Professor Sutton, Mr. Andrews, Ms. Mikakos and their respective offices in the weeks surrounding the establishment of the state hotel quarantine program provide some insight into the role he is playing in a critical phase of Victoria’s COVID has played -19 response.

The releases show that Professor Sutton is practically involved in advising on overseas mortality rates, school transmission rates, and the public health criteria for the release of COVID patients from isolation. They show that with most COVID things, the CHO kept a close eye on the details.

On March 21, the day before Andrews announced that Victoria would be discontinuing all non-essential services, Professor Sutton emailed his Department of Health and Human Services supervisors with proposals for changes to the public health message.

Instead of washing their hands, people should be told to wash their hands often, he said. Instead of pressing a traffic light or a lift button with an elbow, they should also be asked to use their ankle or a pen. “Have you ever tried to push a lift button with your elbow?” He wrote. “Needs other options.”

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton. Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and Prime Minister Daniel Andrews prepare for the media.Recognition:Penny Stephens

On March 12th at 7:36 in the morning he sent his advice to Ms. Mikakos to stop the race regarding the Grand Prix. On March 26, a day before the national cabinet met to approve the introduction of hotel quarantine, Professor Sutton sent Ms. Mikakos a model showing the importance of stopping the spread of COVID-19 among returning travelers.

Victoria’s cumulative case number was over 200 and growing rapidly, largely due to infections acquired abroad. The model prognosis showed that the total number of cases would explode ten times if infections acquired abroad were not contained. Professor Sutton informed the Coate investigation that he “absolutely supported” the mandatory quarantine at the time.

How can this be reconciled with its apparent disconnection from all aspects of the program and its lack of attention to an urgent email exchange on March 27th, the day it was announced?

How can you reconcile his testimony with a separate email at the beginning of the quarantine program placing Professor Sutton at the head of a DHHS chain of command for all instructions, guidelines, reports and arrangements for detainees?

Liberal MP David Davis stands up during Question Time.
Liberal MP David Davis stands up during Question Time.Recognition:Eddie Jim

David Davis, former health secretary and opposition leader on the Legislative Council, says you can’t.

“It is clear that Brett Sutton’s micromanaging of minute details directly contradicts his apparent amnesia on investigation,” said Davis. “The Chief Health Officer is a critical legal position and he has legal responsibility whether he tries.” Distance yourself or not. ”

The investigation had not seen the March 27 email or the chain of command email that followed when Professor Sutton testified five weeks ago.

The March 27 email was important. It was compiled by a member of Professor Sutton’s public health team in response to a last-minute request from the Australian Border Force for details of housing, transportation, medical assistance and safety arrangements for Victoria’s quarantine program. Professor Sutton asked to be copied into the reply and immediately acknowledged receipt.

He says he either didn’t read the email or the content didn’t register with him and he stands by his testimony for the request.

There is some support for Professor Sutton’s position within the material posted on FOI.

The investigation is investigating whether further communications about the use of private security forces took place between the Prime Minister, his staff, Public Service Chief Chris Eccles, Police Commissioner Graham Ashton and others in a crucial six minutes after 1 p.m. on March 27 to have.

What was Professor Sutton doing at the time? read The conversation. At 1:16 p.m., just as Mr Ashton texted Mr Eccles for details about the hotel quarantine, Professor Sutton sent Ms. Mikakos a link to a story about social distancing.

The problem for Professor Sutton now extends beyond whether or not he has read an email. It also threatens to involve senior lawyers from MinterEllison, one of Melbourne’s best-known civil and commercial law firms that also provides services to Age.

According to MinterEllison, it was one of Professor Sutton’s DHHS colleagues who whistled the missing emails. The emails were sent to MinterEllison by DHHS but were not created by MinterEllison for the request. The judgment handed down at the time – a judgment challenged by attorneys who supported the investigation – is that the emails were not “critically relevant” to the mandate of the investigation.

This is where things get difficult for Professor Sutton.

In response to an explanatory letter on the request, MinterEllison partner Rebecca Bedford said when her legal team brought up the issue with Professor Sutton, “He further instructed us that he did not think he needed to clarify his evidence, and therefore did it the e-mail need not be made available to the board for this reason “.

MinterEllison’s statement suggests that the chief health officer did not want the investigation to include the documents in case it is accepted.

In cases where a notice is issued to someone, the obligation to comply rests with the client, not the lawyer. Failure to comply with a notice from a commission of inquiry without adequate excuse can result in a two-year prison sentence.

This may be serious business for Professor Sutton and Kym Peake, the DHHS Secretary to whom the original notice was sent for submission. It also raises questions for MinterEllison’s attorneys, who advised Professor Sutton of his legal obligations and whether he followed that advice.

It is not certain that Jennifer Coate will get to the bottom of all of this. As of Friday, her investigation had not planned any further hearings or requested an extension of the deadline for submitting the final report. This suggests that she has no intention of recalling witnesses.

Jennifer Coate leads the investigation into Victoria's hotel quarantine program.
Jennifer Coate leads the investigation into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program.Recognition:Getty

In the absence of further public hearings, recent twists and turns in the hotel quarantine saga can only be corrected “on the papers”; an exchange of documents prepared by attorneys instead of questioning witnesses under oath.

“If it is correct that the board intends to finalize its process through written material it would be deeply worrying and contrary to the public interest,” said a legal source. “If the Chamber is serious about receiving adequate answers to properly carry out its duties, it has no choice but to call witnesses and properly investigate them.”

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Professor Sutton will hope that regardless of how the investigation went from here, he does not share the fate of Ms. Mikakos and Mr. Eccles, who both resigned after their testimony of the investigation was later disproved by material.

In mid-June, as Victoria’s devastating second wave of infections, which broke out from hotel quarantine failures, gained momentum, Professor Sutton told ABC that he wanted to stay as a CHO for a while. “I love the job,” he said. “I absolutely adore it. ”

Whether or not he can be known may be known by November 6, if the Coate investigation is due to release its results.

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Chip Le Grand is the main reporter for The Age. He writes on crime, sports and national affairs, with a particular focus on Melbourne.

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