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Richard Riordan MP ADF support was not offered at meeting for hotel quarantine, Commissioner insists

Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp insists the Australian Defence Force did not offer to provide personnel for the state's hotel quarantine program at a crucial meeting on March 27, and he never asked for it.

Mr Crisp was speaking on Wednesday at a parliamentary public accounts and estimates committee hearing that also heard Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton reveal criminal inquiries are under way into security companies engaged for the botched program. Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp chaired a pivotal meeting to set up the hotel quarantine program.CREDIT:LUIS ASCUI"Last week, I was made aware that complaints had been made to the licensing and registration division which governs that area," Mr Patton said.

He was unable to reveal anything else about the criminal inquiries after the committee's chair – Labor MP Lizzie Blandthorn – cut the questioning short as the member asking the questions – the Liberals' Bridget Vallence – had run out of time.

The coronavirus outbreaks at two quarantine hotels that created Victoria's second wave of infections have sparked debate about whether armed forces and police could have, or should have, been involved in the program.

The committee heard earlier this month that the hotel quarantine system, including the use of private security guards, was signed off by Mr Crisp under advice from a "governance group" made up of bureaucrats from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Jobs, Regions and Precincts, Victoria Police, Department of Transport, and the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Victoria has recorded 149 new COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Under questioning from Liberal MP Richard Riordan on Wednesday, Mr Crisp said the ADF was part of planning and co-ordination meetings for the quarantine program on March 27 and March 28, but no personnel assistance was offered.

Mr Crisp said: "With the meetings on March 27 and 28 when we set up Operation Soteria there was not an offer from the ADF in relation to support for hotel quarantine, and nor did I request that support ... I was well aware and I can recall from the Prime Minister's press conference also that ADF support would be made available. Again, I took that to be very broad terms." Mr Crisp made similar comments in a statement he released on August 12, contradicting federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds' insistence that ADF support was offered to Victoria.

He said he consulted the secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety before "putting out a statement to clarify the facts".

The Commissioner added he did not believe ADF support was required at that stage. "We believed that we [had] the resources within the state to meet the needs of that particular program," he said. Mr Crisp confirmed the March 27 meeting was recorded and the tape had been provided to the hotel quarantine inquiry being led by former judge Jennifer Coate. The commissioner confirmed he reported to Police Minister Lisa Neville and that he regularly briefed her as government departments were drawing up the hotel quarantine plans. When asked who decided to use private security guards for the scheme, Mr Crisp said: "Work had already been undertaken to plan for hotel quarantine.

"There had already been engagement with private security to undertake the primary security role." The committee has previously heard the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions engaged security contractors.

Asked if Victoria Police assistance was offered, Mr Crisp said: "That was not part of the discussion."

Watch Commission hearing here.

Nationals MP Danny O'Brien requested Mr Crisp provide the documents and plans that were drawn up for the program, which have been provided to the Coate inquiry. Mr Crisp said he would take that request on notice.

Attorney-General says not for her to reveal legal advice on state of emergency Earlier, Attorney-General Jill Hennessy told the inquiry the state's most senior legal adviser, Solicitor-General Kristen Walker, QC, had counselled the government on its bid to extend the state of emergency until September next year. Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy says she will not reveal the government's legal advice about the state of emergency extension.

Ms Hennessy also claimed she played no part in the decision to hire private security guards for the state's botched quarantine program. Responsibility for the program was recently transferred to Ms Hennessy, the state's former health minister, following the outbreaks at the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels. She refused to name the minister who was ultimately responsible for establishing the scheme, holding the line set by her colleagues Jobs Minister Martin Pakula, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and Premier Daniel Andrews.

"I’m not in a position to illuminate things that I wasn’t responsible for at the time," Ms Hennessy said.

WorkSafe chief executive Colin Radford confirmed government departments can be prosecuted under the workplace manslaughter laws passed by State Parliament this year.

But Mr Radford said he would not speculate on whether WorkSafe could investigate and prosecute government departments over the botched hotel quarantine program.

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