Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien has gone on 3AW this morning to endorse jail for people who fail to cooperate with contact tracers.
"How do you encourage them to talk?" asked 3AW host, Neil Mitchell.
"Look I'm furious – I'm furious with these blokes [the removalists] because they are putting all of us at risk. The economic and health consequences if we have another bloody lockdown will be just horrific. I've been trying to think about what we could do," replied Victorian State Opposition Leader, Michael O'Brien.
"One idea would be to create a law of serious interference for a public health investigation and yes, you might make that as a jail-able offense. The point is, how do we get information out of people straight away? Because there's no point saying, 'well you could go to jail in two years' time' we need the information now."
"The way that courts work is if you commit a contempt of court, the courts have the power to effectively hold you on remand – hold you in jail – until you purge that contempt. For example, if the court requires you to answer a particular question and you say 'I'm not answering it' the court can say that 'that's contempt of court' and you're going to sit there in the cell until you decide to actually give us the answer."
"It is worth the government looking at creating some sort of offense. [...] It's an idea that's absolutely worth exploring. These are unprecedented times."
"I'm not a supporter of big government, and I am not a supporter of overbearing government powers," insisted O'Brien, who has previously criticised the Labor government for overreach. "I do think that when it comes to public health investigations like this, there has to be a way to get information out of people."
The conversation arose when it was revealed that the removalists at the centre of the latest Melbourne outbreak had failed to comply fully with contact tracers.
“Three of the people who have thrown Victoria into this crisis are still refusing to cooperate fully with the authorities – these three removalists. They have broken the rules – no question. They’ve lied about it – that’s the indication. And they’re still trying to cover it up – that’s what our officials are saying,” said 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.
3AW went on to say that the maximum penalty that the three removalists involved could face is $45,000 each if multiple offences are added together.
“Now that’s a lot of money, but it’s nothing when it compares to the damage it’s done and it doesn’t solve the problem. We want information from them quickly. […] They’re not giving it. We need to find a way to convince them, and any others that come along, to tell all and tell quickly – even if it does mean they incriminate themselves.”
Neil Mitchell then read a message from an unnamed lawyer friend that suggested that people should be arrested if contact tracers suspect that they are not telling the truth, forcing people to prove where they were and what they were doing despite never having committed a crime.
“I have this message from a lawyer I know – a former senior politician I know – he believes that the onus of proof should be reversed, should be up to these people [those being questioned by contact tracers] to prove that they are telling the truth.”
“He says that if authorities suspect Covid-positive people like this are lying and covering up, arrest them. Hand them over to the police. Hold them in custody until their stories are checked out and then fine them as well.”
This would mean treating victims of Covid as criminals.
Another listener wrote in to suggest a $1,000 fine for each other people without information from contact tracers.
“I’m less concerned about punishment here than I am about getting the information and getting it quickly,” added Neil Mitchell. “We should have the legislation to say if you don’t help, these are the consequences.”
“That’s not much - $11,000 for lying.”
The medium income in 2019 for Australians was $48,360 before tax. For most people, $11,000 is a ruinous amount of money, particularly at a time when many have been sacked or are unable to work due to lockdowns.
“$22,000 for failing to follow a direction, like wearing a mask. When you look at it individually, they are not overwhelmingly huge penalties.”
When one caller rang in suggesting three months jail instead of fines, Neil Mitchell replied, “But how do you get them to talk – short of waterboarding?”
Other listeners phoned in to point out that people like these removalists are just trying to earn a living while those in the public service, such as politicians, continue to give themselves pay rise.
The removalists did not know that they were Covid positive when they travelled between Sydney and Melbourne as part of their ordinary work. There is no suggestion that they intended to spread Covid.