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Victoria was directly offered Australian defence force assistance for hotel quarantine in early April, emails released to the hotel quarantine inquiry have revealed.
The federal government has long-criticised the Victorian government for not initially taking up offers of ADF support for hotel quarantine during the first wave, and deciding instead to use private security guards. Infection control breaches at hotel quarantine have resulted in 99% of the thousands of Covid infections in Victoria since late May.
At least 34 security guards across two quarantine hotels tested positive for Covid-19.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has repeatedly denied that ADF support was on offer. Last month he told a state parliament inquiry no support was offered.
“I don’t believe ADF support was on offer,” Andrews said. “ADF support has been provided in very limited circumstances in New South Wales, not to provide security as such but to provide transportation from the airport to hotels.
“So again I think it is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there were hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow someone said no.”
The federal government’s submission to the inquiry into the botched program includes emails between Phil Gaetjens, the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and his state counterpart, Chris Eccles, from 8 April, which reveal support was offered.
“On the question of assistance with security, I am advised the only deal with NSW was in-kind provision of ADF personnel,” Gaetjens said.
“I am sure the commonwealth would be willing to assist Victoria in a similar way if you wanted to reconsider your operating model.”
Eccles replied “Thanks Phil.”
The hotel quarantine inquiry also heard audio recordings from meetings establishing hotel quarantine where top officials said there was no need for ADF support.
“We can manage this … at this stage, we don’t need boots on the ground, so to speak,” Victoria’s emergency management commissioner, Andrew Crisp, said in the recording of a meeting on 27 March.
Media reports at the time suggested ADF were being used in hotel quarantine, but in a subsequent meeting the following day, Crisp responded to those media reports by reiterating that the ADF would not be used.
“We don’t see the need for ADF boots on the ground in support of this particular operation,” he said.
Crisp told the inquiry he saw the ADF’s role as filling gaps in the capability and capacity of the program, and there were no gaps at that time.
On 24 June, Crisp requested 850 ADF personnel to support compliance and monitoring, at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services to replace the private security workforce in hotel quarantine. But Crisp told the inquiry he withdrew the request one day later at the behest of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, because the department was taking over the operation of the program and was looking into alternatives, including using police and corrective services staff.
The hotel quarantine inquiry has yet to uncover who ultimately made the decision to use private security firms in the program.
The inquiry heard Victoria police made it clear at the 27 March meeting that the preference was that private security be used, and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions was tasked to hire the firms, but Crisp said the decision had already been made before that meeting.
Crisp told the inquiry he believed security firms would be suitable for the role.
“I thought they would have been a suitable and appropriate workforce to use in the hotel,” he said.
“I’ve worked a lot with private security and my thinking was that well-trained, well-supervised private security in this type of role would have been efficient and effective.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australian defence force help for Victoria hotel quarantine was offered in April, inquiry told | Victoria