Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ three-month absence from work due to serious injury has prompted accusations of a “cover-up” from the state opposition, with the Liberals demanding to know if police investigated his fall in March.
Acting Premier James Merlino blasted the opposition on Tuesday, accusing the state Liberals of having “no decency” and claiming they should be ashamed.
“You can’t put to bed conspiracy nutters, and if the Liberal Party want to act disgracefully, that is a matter for them,” he said.
Mr Andrews slipped on wet stairs at a holiday house in Sorrento, on the Mornington Peninsula, on March 9. Mr Merlino – who has been Acting Premier since then – said Mr Andrews sustained “serious injuries” including “several broken ribs and vertebrae damage”.
In social media updates in recent weeks, Mr Andrews revealed he had suffered a “spinal fracture” and was having physiotherapy, with plans to return to work in June. He has also shared pictures of himself wearing what appears to be a back brace.
But Mr Andrews’ absence, and a lull in social media activity from the normally very-online Premier, has fed into conspiracy theories in political and media circles. In corners of the internet, conservative activist or conspiracy-minded Facebook pages had raised evidence-free questions about the nature of his injuries, how he sustained them, and who else was at the Sorrento home at the time.
On Monday, those claims exploded into the mainstream, with shadow state treasurer Louise Staley issuing a press release stating Mr Andrews “owes Victorians some simple answers” after being “off on sick leave for 91 days”.
Among her 12 questions, she wanted to know who else was in the house, and whether Mr Andrews had “been interviewed either formally or informally by the police”. In a pointed personal attack, Ms Staley said Mr Andrews had “pocketed over $110,000” while on sick leave for his back injury, and claimed he “can’t continue to get paid for a job he’s not doing”.
“If there is no cover-up, then there is no reason not to provide answers to these simple questions,” she said.
Later, Ms Staley said the state government should share “footage” of the stairs that Mr Andrews fell down.
Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien said: “We don’t know the whole truth.”
Ms Staley’s statement sparked outrage at Spring Street, with Labor and Greens politicians shocked that the injured Premier had been targeted in such a way.
Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said it “beggars belief” that the opposition was “peddling conspiracy theories”.
— Tim Watts MP (@TimWattsMP) June 8, 2021
Federal Labor MP Tim Watts, from the Melbourne seat of Gellibrand, also poked fun at Ms Staley’s claims.
Following numerous questions, prompted by Ms Staley’s intervention, Ambulance Victoria issues a statement confirming its actions around Mr Andrews’ injury.
An ambulance spokesperson confirmed paramedics were called to the Sorrento home early on March 9. They assessed Mr Andrews as having sustained suspected fractured ribs and being “appropriate for ambulance response”.
BREAKING: @AmbulanceVic statement released with @DanielAndrewsMP permission.
“Ambulance Victoria received a triple zero call for an ambulance at 6.36am on Monday 9 March 2021 for a patient who had fallen on steps at a house in Sorrento.
(Cont.)@10NewsFirstMelb #springst pic.twitter.com/38q9d4z6Rz
— Simon Love (@SimoLove) June 8, 2021
At a briefing on Victoria’s COVID situation on Tuesday, Mr Merlino was pressed on the conspiracy theories. He accused state Liberals of “a disgraceful act” in questioning Mr Andrews’ injury.
“They should be ashamed of themselves, quite frankly,” he said.
Mr Merlino said Mr Andrews would see his doctors this week, and an “exact timeline” of his plans to return to work could be expected shortly.
“His recovery is on track … anyone who has had a serious back injury knows how painful it is and how long the recovery is,” he said.
Mr Merlino called on the opposition to apologise.
“We are working day and night keeping all Victorians safe. For the Liberal Party to act as they have, reflects on them, reflects on how they treat people. No decency, no respect,” he said.