One hundred Australian Defence Force personnel were on standby to oversee Victoria’s hotel quarantine program – but the state government hired private security firms instead of taking up the offer, bombshell documents reveal.
The Daniel Andrews government is facing mounting criticism over the bungled operation as the state’s coronavirus crisis deepens, with 410 new cases identified on Wednesday and a further 21 deaths.
The hotel quarantine program – in which private contractors allegedly slept with infected travellers – is understood to be responsible for most, if not all cases recorded during Victoria’s second wave.
While Mr Andrews has stood firm on his claims that ADF soldiers weren’t offered to assist in the program, Defence Department records show 100 personnel were ready to enforce quarantine, but they were not utilised.
Documents show the offer was refused because Victoria Police were in the ‘advanced planning stages’ of a quarantine program at the time.
An ADF liaison officer told the federal government Victoria’s quarantine plans ‘do not presently include or require ADF involvement’.
Australian Defence Force personnel and policemen on patrol in Melbourne last week
Daniel Andrews’ government is facing mounting criticism as the state’s coronavirus crisis deepens, with 410 new cases identified on Wednesday and a further 21 deaths
The National Cabinet mandated hotel quarantine on March 26, and Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp chaired a meeting the following day when he called for private security firms to manage the program.
Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions secretary Simon Phemister told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday the meeting was ‘pivotal’ in the decision to use security guards.
‘We all put forward our views, deferred to the experts when it came to matters of security, when it came to matters of health protection and public health,’ he said.
In the weeks to follow, Defence was ‘repeatedly’ told the hotel quarantine program was being well managed.
Both Queensland and New South Wales took up the ADF’s offer, and neither have reported any major breaches in the mandatory quarantine program.
On April 2, five ADF staff were deployed to assist in Victoria’s program without warning, but they were reportedly tasked with administration jobs.
Staff inside a hotel in Melbourne are seen moving luggage for guests in quarantine on June 25
Recently arrived overseas travellers get off their bus and wait inside to check in to their hotel quarantine
On June 24, amid mounting pressure and a public health crisis, Mr Crisp requested 850 ADF personnel to support and monitor at hotel quarantine going forward.
The request was almost immediately approved by the federal government, but Mr Crisp never followed through and withdrew the request the very next day.
Meanwhile Mr Andrews told a parliamentary inquiry into the bungled program that his government never rejected the help of ADF officers.
‘ADF support has been provided in very limited circumstances in NSW, not to provide security, as such, but to provide transport from the airport to hotels,’ he reasoned.
‘It is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there were hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow, someone said no. That’s just not, in my judgement, accurate.’
DANIEL ANDREWS DENIES ADF OFFERED HELP WITH HOTEL QUARANTINE
Premier Daniel Andrews used his daily briefing on Wednesday to take a swipe at federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who claimed Victoria knocked back an offer to have Australian Defence Force help with the state’s hotel quarantine scheme.
The premier told an inquiry on Tuesday the ADF never offered to guard the hotels.
The botched program, which used private security companies, was the catalyst for Victoria’s second wave.
‘I don’t know the federal defence minister. I don’t deal with her. I deal with the prime minister,’ Mr Andrews said.
The retort came after the defence minister released a statement saying ADF support was offered to Victoria multiple times.
‘The ADF was consistently advised that its assistance was not required for any ”public-facing roles” in Victoria,’ Senator Reynolds said.
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 (pictured) failed to take the quarantine operation seriously before the virus escaped
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds released a damning statement saying repeated offers were snubbed.
She said in a statement: ‘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’.
A very quiet Bourke Street is seen on August 11 as Melbourne endures its second week of stage-four lockdown
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said Daniel Andrews had been caught lying about his decision to use private security guards
‘Andrews himself claimed ADF would be used from the very start of the program,’ he wrote on Twitter.
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.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Mr Andrews’ office for comment.
During the inquiry, 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 nationwide 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 previously 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.
On Tuesday Victoria recorded 19 deaths and 331 cases of coronavirus, taking 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.
Of the state’s 267 fatalities, all but 20 of which have occurred since July 5.
A person wearing a face mask is seen in Melbourne amid COVID-19 lockdown
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