The federal government offered troops to help run Victoria’s hotel quarantine on ‘multiple occasions’ – but the state government refused and decided to use private security guards instead, it was revealed today.
In an inquiry on Tuesday morning, Premier Daniel Andrews said ‘I don’t believe ADF support was on offer’ when the quarantine program was set up in March.
But the Department of Defence released a damning statement saying repeated offers of assistance were snubbed.
Australian Defense Force (ADF) personnel and Protective service officers are seen on patrol in Melbourne last week
This image taken outside one of Melbourne’s quarantine hotels appears to support the accounts of dozens of workers and returned travellers who say private security guards failed to take the quarantine operation seriously
Victoria’s deadly second wave was sparked after coronavirus escaped from hotel quarantine, which was run by private security firms, in late May.
The Victoria premier was today asked why he chose not to use the police or the ADF to guard returned travellers.
He said: ‘I don’t believe ADF support was on offer. It’s been provided in limited circumstances in New South Wales, not to provide security as such but to provide transportation from the airport to hotels.
‘I think it is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there was hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow someone said no. That’s not, in my judgement, accurate.’
However, the Department of Defence said it offered support ‘multiple times’ and was repeatedly turned down.
A statement read: ‘ADF officials asked whether Victorian authorities required assistance with its mandatory quarantine system on multiple occasions. No request for quarantine support was subsequently received from Victoria at that time.’
The statement also made clear that ADF troops were deployed in both Queensland and New South Wales to guard returned travellers as well as transport them.
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said Daniel Andrews had been caught lying.
‘Andrews himself claimed ADF would be used from the very start of the program,’ he wrote on Twitter.
A very quiet Bourke Street is seen on August 11 as Melbourne endures its second week of lockdown
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said Daniel Andrews had been caught lying about his decision to use private security guards
Mr O’Brien shared an image of a statement released by the premier on 27 March – when quarantine program was announced – which said: ‘It has also been agreed that the Australian Defence Force will be engaged to support the implementation of these arrangements.’
The only request for ADF support for quarantine from the Victorian government came on 24 June.
Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp requested 850 ADF personnel to assist with hotel quarantine compliance – but the request was withdrawn the next day.
Asked why the request was withdrawn, Mr Andrews said: ‘The question you’re referring to, you’d need to speak to the person who made that request because it was not made by anybody in a position of authority.’
During the inquiry today, the premier was also asked whose idea it was to man hotel quarantine with private security guards instead of the police and army troops.
Mr Andrews said the Victorian government had already been using private security guards for quarantining health workers and vulnerable people before the quarantine program for returned travellers began.
‘It was essentially an extension of a program that we had already stood up. Nothing more, nothing less,’ he said.
The premier was asked if he regrets ‘the decision to employ private security guards in hotel quarantine’.
He replied: ‘No-one wanted a second wave of the virus. But none of us have the luxury of going back in time.’
Department of Defence hits back at Daniel Andrews: Full statement
Below is the Department of Defence’s full statement on ADF support:
Throughout the pandemic the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been postured to respond to requests for support from the states and territories at very short notice.
From 21 March 2020, ADF planning teams were established in every state and territory to rapidly facilitate any requests for support.
Following the Prime Minister’s offer on 27 March 2020 for ADF support to states and territories with the new mandatory 14-day quarantine period for international arrivals, the ADF discussed requirements with relevant state and territory authorities.
On 28 March 2020, Victorian authorities advised that Victoria was not seeking ADF assistance with mandatory quarantine arrangements. The ADF was consistently advised that its assistance was not required for any ‘public facing roles’ in Victoria.
ADF officials asked whether Victorian authorities required assistance with its mandatory quarantine system on multiple occasions. No request for quarantine support was subsequently received from Victoria at that time.
On 12 April 2020, Victorian authorities reaffirmed to ADF officials that all quarantine compliance monitoring operations were within Victorian authorities’ capacity.
Defence agreed to requests for support to quarantine compliance from Queensland and NSW on 28 March.
In NSW, ADF personnel began supporting the reception of international arrivals at Sydney Airport and undertaking quarantine compliance monitoring at hotels the following day.
In Queensland, ADF personnel began supporting reception of international arrivals at Brisbane airport the following day, and supported quarantine compliance monitoring at hotels from 31 March.
On 14 April 2020, the ADF shared observations on best practice quarantine compliance monitoring operations with all state and territory police commissioners, including the success of interagency operations between the ADF and NSW Police.
On 24 June 2020, Defence agreed to a Victorian Government request for 850 ADF personnel to assist with hotel quarantine compliance. The request was withdrawn by the Victorian Government the following day. The decision to withdraw the request is a matter for the Victorian Government.
On 3 August 2020, the ADF agreed to provide up to 50 personnel to support Western Australian authorities with support to hotel quarantine.
Under Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) arrangements, Defence provides assistance to states and territories when requested through Emergency Management Australia. DACC arrangements are predicated on states and territories requesting Defence assistance.
Mr Andrews was the first witness called at the second sitting of the Victorian Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s COVID-19 Inquiry on Tuesday.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has said it is conceivable that all Victoria’s second-wave cases arose from security employed at hotels unwittingly carrying the virus out of quarantine.
The debacle first came to public attention on May 27 when the infection of a security guard working at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in Carlton, inner-north Melbourne was announced.
The following week, on June 6, the spread of the deadly virus appeared under control as zero cases were recorded for the first time since March 5.
But on June 17 an outbreak erupted at the Stamford Plaza in Melbourne’s CBD and 21 new cases were recorded across the state.
It emerged that guards working for private security firms – contracted by the Andrews government to run the quarantine scheme – had breached social distancing requirements and failed to enforce the rules.
There were reports they had allowed separate families to play cards and that some guards had even had sex with returned travellers.
The 19 deaths and 331 cases of coronavirus added on Tuesday brought the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 247 and the national figure to 332.New daily case numbers have declined in Victoria since the peak of 725 on 5 August.
Staff inside a hotel in Melbourne are seen moving luggage for guests in quarantine on June 25
VICTORIA’S BUNGLED HOTEL QUARANTINE PROGRAM – KEY DATES
* March 16 – State of emergency declared in Victoria, returned travellers instructed to undergo 14-days of quarantine at home.
* March 27 – National cabinet decides returned travellers will be subject to mandatory 14-day quarantine ‘at designated facilities, for example, in a hotel’.
* May 27 – Outbreak at Rydges on Swanston first identified.
* May 31 – Victoria’s state of emergency extended for three weeks ahead of stage-three restrictions easing the next day. Four new COVID-19 cases, 74 active cases.
* June 6 – No new cases for the first time since March 5.
* June 9 – Students return to school.
* June 17 – Stamford Plaza outbreak identified; Victoria records 21 new COVID-19 cases – its highest increase in more than a month.
* June 21 – Further easing of restrictions.
* June 26 – Concerns grow about the program after it’s revealed 30 per cent of travellers are refusing tests. Confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
* June 29 – Hot spot suburbs in Melbourne’s north and north-west return to lockdown and all international flights into the city are put on hold for two weeks.
* July 2 – Inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program announced.
* July 4 – A full lockdown is announced at short notice for nine Melbourne public housing towers. Victoria records 108 new cases – its first day above 100 since late March.
* July 6 – The Victoria-NSW border shuts for the first time in a century.
* July 8 – Melbourne and Mitchell Shire placed into stage-three lockdown for six weeks.
* July 13 – Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton tells ABC Radio that it was conceivable all current cases in Victoria could be traced back to outbreaks stemming from the hotel quarantine system
* July 20 – Hotel Quarantine Inquiry begins. Victoria records 275 new COVID-19 cases, the 15th consecutive day of triple-digit increases in new infections