QuestionsOnNotice

Adjournment Matters No 1018
Answered
Council
59 Parliament First Session
Question
Asked: 25 November 2020

COVID-19

MR O'DONOHUE — To ask the Minister for Training and Skills (for the Attorney-General): 

My adjournment this evening is for the Attorney-General, and the action I seek is that she review the suitability of the Pinskier brothers to be the providers of such a significant proportion of the medical services to the government’s hotel quarantine program. As I have previously mentioned, the Pinskier brothers are Labor Party royalty, and as the initial provider of medical services to the hotel quarantine program they have benefited significantly. In addition to concerns about their Labor connections and how they came to have such a significant medical contract in the first place, it is important that the minister also consider the Pinskiers’ dubious commercial practices as well as their undisclosed conflict of interest with Melbourne Pathology, one of the providers of pathology services to the hotel quarantine program.

The VCAT matter of Meadsview Pty Ltd—a Pinskier company—v. Fenton(Building and Property) and the costs decision of the same name in 2019 laid bare some very sharp commercial practices by the Pinskiers. After bringing an action against the landlord at their leased premises at Carre Street in Elsternwick because of alleged faulty air conditioning, VCAT heard days of evidence about how the Pinskiers and their many associated companies sought to make super profits by artificially suppressing lease costs while subletting without landlord consent—and therefore in breach of any standard lease—at vastly inflated rates to other doctors, allied health professionals and other service providers such as Melbourne Pathology. Payment was made to the contracted doctors on a commission basis, which raises separate ethical issues.

In dismissing the Pinskiers’ claim and making an unusual legal costs award against them at VCAT the senior member, Mr Walker, concluded in the 2019 decision:

It is uncommon that one finds a case that is so obviously untenable or manifestly groundless as to be utterly hopeless, but I am satisfied that this is such a case. The Tenants’—

or the Pinskiers’—

claim was so lacking in any substance that it should not have been brought and consequently, it was vexatious within the meaning of s.92 of the Act.

This raises obvious ethical issues about how the Pinskiers conduct business. It was made even more important given their services were procured for hotel quarantine by Dr Nathan Pinskier nominating an hourly rate which apparently was accepted by the Department of Health and Human Services without dispute and is the basis upon which the Pinskiers may well still be billing the taxpayer.

Another fact revealed by VCAT was the relationship between the Pinskiers and one of their subtenants at Elsternwick and other clinics they operate, Melbourne Pathology. Melbourne Pathology, a well-known and respected provider of pathology services across Melbourne, has a significant commercial relationship with the Pinskiers. So the Pinskiers have a significant relationship with Melbourne Pathology, but in an email dated 13 April, basically seeking Melbourne Pathology to be the monopoly provider of pathology services to the hotel quarantine program, Dr Pinskier failed to reveal this conflict of interest. The action I seek of the minister is to conduct a thorough due diligence of the Pinskiers and their elaborate Australian and international corporate structure, their financial and commercial affairs and conflicts of interest before entering into any written contract with them for medical services as part of the new hotel quarantine program.

Answer
Answered: 29 April 2021

Mr PEARSON (Essendon—Assistant Treasurer, Minister for Regulatory Reform, Minister for Government Services, Minister for Creative Industries):

On 27 July 2020, the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) assumed operational responsibility for the COVID-19 accommodation program from the then Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

On 27 November 2020, ministerial responsibility for the program transferred from the Attorney­ General to the portfolio of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services.

As you are aware, on 1 December 2020, COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) was established as an Administrative Office and assumed operational responsibility for the program from DJCS. CQV only holds limited information about procurement of services for the program prior to its establishment.

A review of procurement records indicates that neither DJCS or CQV have engaged Onsite Doctor or DoctorDoctor to provide any services for the COVID-19 accommodation program operated by CQV.

CQV procures health services from Healthcare Australia and Alfred Health for the accommodation program. These services include: symptom screening and assessment of travellers upon arrival to Australia; triage and referral of travellers to quarantine health or complex care hotels or hospitals as required; and management of the health of returned travellers undertaking quarantine in the general hotel quarantine program, including COVID-19 testing, daily symptom and health and wellbeing checks, and management of any other health-related matters that can be dealt with safely in these hotel quarantine settings.

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