The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) today branded the New South Wales Government’s inquiry into the Ruby Princess as a ‘smokescreen’ for the government’s failings in the second phase of the Ruby Princess saga after passengers disembarked.
The ITF joined with state and federal Labor politicians in calling for Premier Berejiklian to expand the terms of reference of the inquiry to examine the events beyond 19 March 2020, including authorities’ disregard for the health, safety and welfare of crew and whether decisions made in relation to medical care, testing and repatriation exposed the crew, and the Australian public, to a greater risk of contracting Covid-19.
ITF Coordinator Dean Summers said today that the narrow terms of reference made it seem the Premier was trying to cover up the state government’s failings over the ship, rather than examine which lessons can be learnt to prevent future outbreaks on cruise vessels.
“Premier Berejiklian made a promise when she established this inquiry to ‘leave no stone unturned until we find out exactly what happened’, but the reality is that the limited scope of the Special Commission’s term of reference renders the inquiry a sham,” said Summers.
“The 1,200 crew members, whose health, safety and welfare were disregarded by authorities at every step of the way throughout the Ruby Princess saga, are now the victims of political smother."
“In a letter from the Commission just yesterday, they confirmed that they’re aware of our calls on the Premier to investigate all that went wrong with the Ruby Princess, and they’ve said that expanding the terms of reference of the inquiry ‘is now a matter for the Premier’. Even according to the Commissioner, the ball is now firmly in Premier Berejiklian’s court.”
In correspondence to ITF’s legal team, the Commission also stated that, “the treatment of infected crew after passengers disembarked the Ruby Princess on 19 March 2020, and the circumstances of their repatriation, or ongoing medical treatment on the vessel” are of concern to the Commissioner. Despite the Commissioner’s view that these matters do not fall within the current terms of reference, the Commission stated, “That is not a reflection on the seriousness of the confirmed facts or assertions made”.
“The inquiry must examine the events beyond when the passenger disembarked. We need to know with what information did the NSW Government send the Ruby Princess from Sydney to Port Kembla? Why didn’t they undertake any effort to test the crew or to repatriate crew before they were exposed to greater risk of contracting Covid-19?” said Summers.
“Were the decisions of state and federal government’s consistent with Australia’s international obligations when cruise ships were ordered to leave the Australian coast no matter the catastrophe that those decisions would bring upon crew? We need to know if it was even legal for NSW Police Commissioner Fuller to demand that the Ruby Princess depart Port Kembla on 19 April 2020, despite 200 Covid-19 cases on board the ship.”
“NSW Government and federal authorities are responsible as much for the welfare of the crew of the Ruby Princess as they are for the welfare of passengers. The Ruby Princess’ crew are people who simply went to work, and were put in danger because of the actions and inaction of authorities handling this outbreak. They deserve the justice of knowing everything was done that could be done to help them. They deserve to know what went wrong and how a similar travesty could be avoided,” said Summers.
The ITF is committed to make sure that justice is done for the crew who were infected, they believe, due to agency incompetence.
Summers said: “We want federal and state agencies to own up, answer the hard questions, and admit where they got it wrong. That’s what the crew of the Ruby Princess deserve after being exposed to one of the biggest occupational health and safety calamities in Australia’s maritime history.”
“If we can’t get justice from Premier Berejiklian, if she’s choosing cover-up over owning-up, then we’ll take this show to Canberra and ‘turn over’ all the ‘stones’ we need to, for as long as we need to,” said Summers.