Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:00): Pursuant to standing order 23.29 I lay on the table the second report from the Legal and Social Issues Committee on the inquiry into the closure of I Cook Foods Pty Ltd, including appendices, transcripts of evidence, extracts of proceedings and a minority report. I move:
That the report be published.
Motion agreed to.
Ms PATTEN: I move:
That the Council take note of the report.
The first inquiry that we did into the closure of I Cook Foods was a self-referred inquiry. That was an investigation into the case of listeriosis that related to the death of Mrs Jean Painter during her admission at Knox Private Hospital. The committee resolved to reopen the inquiry, and this was due to the fresh allegations that we saw in the media. They seemed to conflict with the evidence that we had received during the inquiry’s initial investigations. The media reports related to inspections of Knox Private Hospital conducted by Mr Ray Christy, who at the time was an environmental health officer at Knox City Council.
The news was really concerning, and it indicated that the committee may have been misled during the inquiry’s initial investigations. The findings of Mr Christy’s report indicated that Mrs Painter had been on a soft diet during her admission in the Knox Private Hospital, and that conflicted with the evidence that had been provided initially to the inquiry. So we heard evidence from Mr Christy, and we managed to get his report so he could provide that evidence to us. We also heard about allegations made by Ms Kim Rogerson about the conduct of officers at the City of Greater Dandenong and the organisational culture of the council more broadly. Again, Ms Rogerson expanded on those allegations at a public hearing. These were really concerning, and they led to considerable questions for the committee itself. So we sought an explanation of the new evidence and allegations from officials from the City of Greater Dandenong and the Department of Health.
I have to say that after considering all of the information that was provided the previous findings and recommendations of the committee have not been invalidated by this information. But the new evidence did raise, really, further issues with the processes used by the Department of Health during its investigation into the listeriosis case at Knox Private Hospital. We have made further recommendations to improve those processes, and the committee have reiterated the importance of the Victorian government implementing a number of the key recommendations that we made in our first report.
The committee’s investigation found that there was no reason to believe that evidence from the Department of Health officials was deliberately intended to obstruct the inquiry or constituted a contempt of Parliament. However, those omissions of that evidence that was later published by the media led to unnecessary confusion and obviously instigated the reopening of the inquiry. So I would say this is a really timely reminder for witnesses, particularly officers of government departments, that they should be properly prepared when giving evidence to a parliamentary inquiry and to ensure that committees are made aware as soon as possible when new information comes to light.
There was considerable media coverage surrounding this closure and serious allegations made by key inquiry stakeholders that amounted to tampering with evidence and allegations of systemic workplace culture issues. Examining a number of these issues was just outside the remit of the committee’s parliamentary inquiry, and it probably was not the most appropriate forum for some of that. So I certainly understand that Victoria Police may be continuing investigations, and I would say other anti-corruption and other oversight agencies would possibly be in a very good place to conduct these types of investigations.
I would like to thank Mrs Painter’s daughters, Mrs Jo Woodstock and Ms Fiona Wharry, who gave evidence at the hearing and clarified a number of issues. I sincerely thank them for their contribution.
I thank my colleagues on the committee for their contributions to this inquiry in such a short time frame. I also thank the secretariat, and in particular the research team of Samantha Leahy, Anique Owen, led by Caitlin Connally with administrative support from Sylvette Bassy and Justine Donohue and managed incredibly capably by Matt Newington. I commend this report to the house.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan
Report tabled 14/10/21