The owner of the Melbourne abattoir at the heart of Victoria’s biggest coronavirus cluster was a Victorian Labor Party member for more than two decades.
A spokeswoman for Cedar Meats confirmed Mr Kairouz had been a party member until 2017 and knew several Labor MPs through community circles.
“The Kairouz family are active members of the community in the western suburbs,” she said.
The Victorian Labor Partys branch secretary Clare Burns declined to comment on Mr Kairouz’s Labor associations, citing privacy issues.
The government chose not to name Cedar Meats when news broke over the weekend about a cluster of cases at the abattoir, sparking accusations from the opposition that it had failed to handle the outbreak transparently. By contrast, it named a northern suburbs primary school on Sunday where one teacher who had not been in contact with students returned a positive test for COVID-19.
Mr Andrews said Meadowglen Primary School was named because parents across the state would have been concerned it was their childs school if the name was withheld.
“Different settings require a different approach. I want to be clear with you, theyre not judgments that I make,” he told reporters. “The public health team make those judgments about what’s proportionate. We’ve been through this, this is not new.”
On Thursday, Mr Andrews said “just about everybody” at the abattoir would be tested for coronavirus, although it is now closed.
“I am very confident that everything that can be done is being done by a dedicated team of contact tracers.”
The Victorian Health Department confirmed this week it was aware that an employee at Cedar Meats contracted the virus a month ago, but the meatworks was not considered a health risk because the worker said he had not been at work for weeks before he developed symptoms.
Cedar Meats has insisted it has a strong record of workplace safety. Mr Kairouz said this week that the business was continuing to work with the Health Department and was co-operating fully with any requirements.
Mr Andrews said it was reasonable for health authorities to take people at their word about where they had been.
Opposition Leader Michael OBrien criticised the governments handling of the outbreak, saying it had “dropped the ball in a very big way”.
He said the government needed to explain whether the first patient to contract the virus actually attended work.
“The system has broken down. Too many Victorians have been infected and too many Victorians are at risk because the system has not worked,” he said.
Mr OBrien demanded an independent inquiry into the outbreak.
“Its not about blame, its not about finger pointing. Its getting to the bottom of something that shouldnt have happened and has affected the health of a lot of Victorians,” he said.
On Thursday Mr Andrews said the Cedar Meats owner was no relation to Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz, with whom he shares a surname.
With Michael Fowler
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Benjamin is a state political reporter
Ben Schneiders is an investigative journalist at The Age and has reported extensively on wage theft, corruption, business, politics and the labour movement. A three-time Walkley Award winner, he has been part of The Ages investigative unit since 2015.