EXCLUSIVE: In an amazing bit of coincidence, it can now be revealed that some of the key players involved in the Ruby Princess ‘plague ship’ COVID-19 fiasco just happened to also be involved in a major Liberal Party corruption scandal that brought down a premier almost 30 years ago. Serkan Ozturk investigates.
It’s now widely referred to by many as the “plague ship”. The Ruby Princess cruise liner that was allowed to dock in Sydney over a fortnight ago during a worldwide pandemic with its 2,700 passengers not undergoing health checks is now the leading cause of COVID-19 infection in Australia, accounting for about one tenth of total cases.
About 450 passengers have since tested positive for Coronavirus after being allowed to disembark at Circular Quay on March 19. There were about 4,500 cases of Coronavirus reported in total for Australia as of March 31. 20 people have died from the illness, with at least six of those deaths being passengers who were aboard the Ruby Princess. When the ship docked in Sydney, it has been officially claimed that three passengers and one crew member were displaying flu-like symptoms. However, there are claims by some government officials that Carnival Cruises – which operates the Ruby Princess – may have lied about its knowledge of COVID-19 infection and transmission aboard the cruise ship. Carnival is now refusing to answer questions from the media.
It is believed many of the passengers who disembarked from the Ruby Princess in Sydney then travelled to their homes interstate.
As such by the end of March, there were at least 71 people in South Australia, 70 in Queensland, 43 in Western Australia, 22 in the ACT, 18 in Victoria and two in the Northern Territory infected with Coronavirus and who been onboard the Ruby Princess just a couple weeks prior.
As of the time of publishing on April 3, it is now believed there are 600 cases of COVID-19 in Australia linked to the Ruby Princess.
The fiasco has already seen a public blame game being played out by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s Border Force and Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s NSW Government.
Border Force has claimed it was NSW Health’s role to check the ship’s passengers and that its responsibilities for border control did not extend to health checks.
While Berejiklian has claimed it was Border Force which erroneously classified the Ruby Princess as ‘low risk’ of COVID-19 transmission and that’s why NSW Health officials were not there to greet the ship’s passengers upon its arrival in Sydney.
Two days after the ship docked, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard admitted it was a mistake to not conduct health checks of passengers or place them in quarantine.
“If I had my opportunity to have my two bob’s worth, with the benefit of what we now know about those … people I’d have said yeah, maybe we should hold them on the ship,” he said on March 21.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard (Image: NSW Parliament)
What Hazzard didn’t tell the public about though was his own long personal history with senior staff members at Carnival Cruises: such as its head of corporate communications, David Jones.
Let’s rewind all the way back to the early 1990s and to a moment in time that both Hazzard nor Mr Jones would want to remember but is likely one they have not forgotten. Being involved in the downfall of your own Liberal Party premier on corruption charges is something that would be hard to forget. Probably.
Mr Jones was a news reporter for Channel Seven in the 1980s before he left the heady world of television in June 1990 to become the chief media adviser for then-NSW Premier Nick Greiner.
Only a year later, in 1991, a green and eager Hazzard would enter NSW Parliament as the member for Wakehurst having spent a few years as a Liberal Party acolyte rising up through the ranks in the political party’s executive office.
In early 1992, with Premier Greiner having to govern in a minority government with the support of independents, Hazzard thought he had a bright idea when he remembered that former Liberal MP turned Independent, Terry Metherell, had previously expressed interest in gaining a cushy, plum director’s job with the Environmental Protection Authority.
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Seeking a meeting with Premier Greiner, Hazzard suggested to the premier’s team that they could give the job to Metherell so that a by-election would be called; one which the Liberal Party was positive of winning and would allow it to strengthen its unwieldy grip on power in the state.
Premier Greiner subsequently created the job for Metherell but would end up losing his own after being called to front the ICAC on corruption charges.
The ICAC found Greiner’s conduct could be seen “by a notional jury as conducting himself contrary to known and recognised standards of honesty and integrity”.
The ICAC hearing saw Greiner and Hazzard eventually both admitting that their original statements to the inquiry were wrong.
Greiner is now the national president of the Liberal Party.
On his LinkedIn profile, Mr Jones describes his time working with Greiner in the Premier’s office as “an excellent career experience but a position subject to the vagaries of political fortune good and bad”.
Mr Jones also happens to be the father of Gemma Jones, who is the Daily Telegraph’s deputy editor.
Just six months ago, Mr Jones posted on social media a photo of himself going out to meet the Ruby Princess as it docked in Sydney last October.
David Jones and the Ruby Princess in October last year (Image: Facebook / Supplied)
When contacted by True Crime News Weekly to comment on his relationship with Minister Hazzard, Mr Jones tried to downplay the important historical links between the pair while at the same time big-upping his journalism career.
“You can’t be serious,” Mr Jones said by email.
“I haven’t spoken to Brad Hazzard for perhaps 30 years and if I had it has escaped my memory. For a number of years I was state political reporter for the Sydney Sun and the Seven Network so I would have interviewed him quite often as a working journalist, a Walkley award winning one at that.
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“And for two years I was Premier Nick Greiner’s press secretary and from memory Mr Hazzard was a Minister in his government. But a relationship that goes way back let’s be real. What are you trying to imply?”
It has to be noted that Hazzard was not a minister at the time, but only a humble backbencher.
When True Crime News Weekly congratulated Mr Jones on his Walkley (while informing him Sharri Markson stole ours) and proffered that we would only be detailing historical facts, Mr Jones then responded:
“It’s a pretty slender thread … I doubt whether Brad Hazzard and I are likely to cross paths directly even in this event. I only know him as a competent minister of the crown.”
Mr Jones did not comment when asked whether Carnival had acted appropriately and in the best interests of public health during its docking of the Ruby Princess in Sydney on March 19.
Former NSW Premier Nick Greiner and his corruption case in 1992 links NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard to senior personnel at Carnival Cruises (Image: ABC)
For his part, Hazzard did not respond to our requests for comment sent by text message to his media team.
In a stunning development though, there are now growing claims that there may also be another intimate Liberal Party connection to the Ruby Princess.
If the chatter across social media is to be believed, it is being said that Liberal MP and Assistant Defence Minister, Alex Hawke, who represents the Hills District in Sydney’s bible belt, had some bizarre part to play in the widening scandal.
It has been alleged the parents of Hawke’s wife Amelia were onboard the Ruby Princess along with some friends from the Hillsong Church. Hawke and his family are proud Pentecostal Christians, much like our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison,
True Crime News Weekly contacted Hawke’s office by email and asked whether the MP could simply confirm or deny the claims that his parental in-laws were aboard the cruise liner. We did not receive a response from Hawke or his staff to what we believed was a very simple question.
Liberal MP Alex Hawke won’t say whether his in-laws were on the “plague ship” Ruby Princess (Image: NSW Liberal Party)
Meanwhile, in the past few days Carnival Cruises has admitted the worldwide cruise liner industry may never fully recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
As reported extensively by Crikey earlier this week, the cruise ship industry is a major money spinner for the NSW Government, with Carnival being the number one player in town and the local ports authorities reliant on it as its cash cow.
The multi-billion dollar company is run largely by a mixture of toffs from Britain and the United States but is based in Bermuda for tax minimisation / evasion purposes and to get around tougher employment and wage laws in places like the UK and Australia. It is now seeking $6 billion in funding as it seeks to survive the potential death sentence the Coronavirus has given cruise ships the world over.
The Ruby Princess remains moored off the coast of NSW, with 1,100 crew still onboard with fears up to 250 of them may have contracted COVID-19.
The NSW Government announced today that NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has been tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the docking of the Ruby Princess. We hope the investigation into this very serious matter is more onerous and stringent than the supposed investigations that the sneering Energy Minister Angus Taylor faced over his childlike forgeries. People have quite literally died because of this debacle. And yet, still, all we largely get is political games.