A Melbourne multimillionaire acting as a spokesman for small businesses fighting to end lockdown has been linked to the notorious ‘Aspen nine’ coronavirus outbreak.
And two major media outlets have been using him to lead their coverage.
Andrew Abercrombie, 63, is a long-time Liberal Party powerbroker, a BRW Rich Lister and chairman of fintech company Flexigroup.
But many Victorians recognise him for a different reason.
Mr Abercrombie was the host of a party in Aspen, Colarado, in March that led to a coronavirus outbreak after several guests failed to isolate upon their return to Melbourne.
It is believed some guests went to a 21st birthday party, while others attended a private school function in Toorak before allegedly playing golf in Portsea, unwittingly spreading the virus.
Portsea locals know the group as ‘the Aspen nine’.
However, if you watched 7 News on Sunday night, Mr Abercrombie appeared only as a “business leader” heading a campaign against Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown.
“The greater good test has been completely abandoned,” Mr Abercrombie told 7 News on Sunday.
“There is an obsession with eradication.”
His brief media appearance sparked anger among some social media users, with one woman saying she was “livid” that 7 News would quote him as a “prominent businessman”.
Radio broadcaster Steve Price also weighed in, pointing out Mr Abercrombie’s connection to the Aspen COVID-19 outbreak.
Seven News just had a bloke called Andrew Abercrombie on the 6pm news demanding Melb be allowed to open up from covid ..great sentiment only problem he’s the bloke who came back from Aspen with covid 🙈
— Steve Price (@StevePriceMedia) October 11, 2020
It should be noted that although Mr Abercrombie’s Aspen party helped to spread the virus in Melbourne, the businessman was not believed to have been personally infectious.
He reportedly returned two negative tests and chose to self-isolate at home as a precaution.
Now, he has emerged as a key organiser behind a new anti-lockdown campaign, ‘Victoria – Let’s Be Open’.
The group is backed by at least 78 members of Victoria’s business community left crippled by the state’s ongoing coronavirus lockdown.
It comes as Melburnians await Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement on Sunday, when he is expected to announce some loosening of restrictions.
In a statement to The New Daily, Mr Abercombie slammed the Victorian government for the “devastating” impact of its coronavirus response on business owners.
“As bad as it is today, the extent of the destruction will not be known until a restart is permitted,” he said.
“Only then will we see how many businesses are unable to re-open, as our streets and shopping centres are littered with ‘for lease’ signs, [and] as the reality of being forced to close for seven months – with cost but no revenue – takes its toll.”
Mr Abercrombie did not respond to questions put to him by The New Daily asking whether the fallout from his Aspen party might undermine his push to reopen Victoria.
To mark the launch of ‘Victoria – Let’s Be Open’, the group took out a full-page ad in the Herald Sun and The Age newspapers on Sunday.
The advertisement called on the government to:
- Publicly release health data justifying the state’s lockdown
- Independently demonstrate the capacity of the Victorian health system to deal with a third wave
- Prove contact tracing and quarantine systems are following best practice.
The campaign was launched by a lobby group called Small Business Australia.
Most Victorians support calls to reopen
Whether or not Victorians care about the group’s links to Murdoch, Aspen or the Liberal Party might not even matter.
Many simply want lockdown restrictions eased, regardless of who is leading the charge.
A new Roy Morgan poll released on Wednesday showed nearly three-quarters of Victorians believe Melburnians should be allowed to visit the homes of their immediate families.
This figure is 14 per cent higher than two weeks ago, and includes people in regional Victoria.
For the first time since coronavirus polling began, a majority of regional Victorians (60 per cent) want the five-kilometre travel limit scrapped for their friends and family in Melbourne.
A majority of Victorians surveyed (62 per cent) also want Melbourne’s restaurants, hotels, clubs and cafes to reopen with table service, provided they can enforce social distancing rules.
7 News Melbourne and News Corp Australia were approached for comment but did not respond.
*In an earlier version of this story, The New Daily stated Small Business Australia had a relationship with News Corp. This statement was inaccurate and has since been clarified.