Coronavirus Victoria: Daniel Andrews says Cox Plate backflip prompted by public backlash, not health concerns

Melissa Davey
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Daniel Andrews has acknowledged he agreed with the decision to allow up to 1,250 people on Moonee Valley racecourse for the Cox Plate carnival, and said the event was cancelled not because of public health concerns but because it was unpopular with the public.

The announcement that the Cox Plate would go ahead came in a media release issued late on Tuesday afternoon, and prompted a swift backlash. Despite being questioned repeatedly in recent weeks about what might reopen and when, the premier had never said that the Cox Plate was under consideration or that meetings were occurring with racing stakeholders.

There was strong public criticism of the announcement, given current restrictions in Melbourne stipulate that no more than 10 people from a maximum of two households can meet outdoors for social interaction, exercise or recreation within 25km of their home. Outdoor gatherings and religious ceremonies are limited to five people, plus one faith leader.

Asked on Wednesday if he had agreed with the decision to hold the Cox Plate across 23 and 24 October, Andrews said he had, but he also supported the decision to cancel it.

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“It was the wrong call, it has now been changed, it won’t be happening, and I don’t know that there is much more to add,” Andrews said. “Let’s focus not on what’s happening on Saturday, but on what may be able to happen on Sunday, that is further easing of these rules because of the amazing job and hard work of so many Victorians.”

He confirmed he believed the Cox Plate was safe from a public health perspective but it was cancelled because it was unpopular among the public.

“It went through a normal process that was deemed safe … [people] were not [going to be] sitting on top of each other or next to each other, they would have been spread out and in smaller numbers over the course of the day,” Andrews said.

“It went through the normal process but it was the wrong decision. It went through all the normal public health teams and channels and it was all signed off by that team. That is not the issue. The issue is that it did not meet the expectations of the community. It was not the right decision to make. That’s why it is not happening.”

The racing minister, Martin Pakula, told ABC radio Melbourne on Wednesday morning he “was made very quickly aware of the reaction of the community”.

“I spoke to the Moonee Valley Racing Club and am happy to put my hand up and say ‘my bad’ and the decision was reversed last night,” he said. He said holding the event had been a request from the Victoria Racing Club.

The VRC chair, Amanda Elliott, told 3AW the discussions with government had been occurring over three months. While she said she was hopeful spectators would be allowed in some capacity, she also had some sympathy “for people who feel if we can’t go to Mum or Dad’s funeral or celebrate a wedding, why should people be able to go to the races?”.

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“The restrictions are beginning to look a little inconsistent and people feel angst around that I think,” she said.

Three new cases of the virus were recorded in Victoria overnight. New South Wales recorded two cases, both linked to the Oran Park cluster in Sydney’s south-west. Eight infections were recorded in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.

One of the Victorian cases was being treated as a possible reinfection, Andrews said. He said an expert panel had reviewed the case and concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to say that the positive test presented viral shedding.

“It is through an abundance of caution that we are assuming that is a positive case, rather than the person shedding after the original infection,” the premier said.

“We are assuming that person has got it a second time and it seems like there are only a small number in the category and perhaps we will never actually know.

“But I think it’s better to assume and be cautious than to jump to a conclusion that the best of science cannot confirm for you. I think this is the best way to go.”