By Rachael Dexter and Michael Fowler
August 12, 2020 — 11.59am
A stoush over Victoria's troubled hotel quarantine program and the role of the Australian Defence Force has been fuelled further, amid demands that the Premier returns to a parliamentary inquiry to clarify his evidence and calls for his resignation.
Mr Andrews gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday that the ADF never offered to support the hotel quarantine scheme. Minister for Sport Martin Pakula speaks at the Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Scroll left through recommended storiesScroll right through recommended stories Hours later, federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds directly contradicted Mr Andrews' evidence, saying Victorian authorities had refused or ignored multiple offers of support from the ADF to help with hotel quarantine.
The parliamentary hearing revealed the hotel quarantine system, including the use of private security guards, was signed off by Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp, under advice from a "governance group".
The group comprised bureaucrats from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Jobs, Regions and Precincts, Victoria Police, Department of Transport, and Department of Premier and Cabinet.
Genomic sequencing by Melbourne's Doherty Institute shows a significant proportion – if not all – of Victoria's second-wave cases may be traced back to quarantine breaches at hotels, for which the government employed private security firms.
Ms Reynolds’ statement included a list of times the offer of ADF assistance had been made. On Wednesday, Mr Crisp entered the fray with a statement saying ADF personnel had not been offered but were part of planning and co-ordination meetings on March 27 and March 28, 2020. "During these discussions, I did not seek nor did representatives of the ADF offer assistance as part of the hotel quarantine program," Mr Crisp said.
Mr Crisp did not mention in his statement his request for 850 personnel on June 24, seen by this masthead, which was signed off by the federal government but then withdrawn by Victoria the next day.
Ms Reynolds acknowledged this request in her statement on Tuesday night.
Simon Phemister, secretary of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, said his department told Chris Eagle, the Forest Fire Management officer in charge of day-to-day operations of the hotel quarantine program, that the security guards needed assistance.
"The deputy state controller [Mr Eagle] acknowledged and heard at all times any concerns that were raised," Mr Phemister said. "What he did to consult the experts, to get a response back to us, I’m not sure.”
Police were not asked to assist in quarantine hotels until July.
Mr Pakula’s department hired the private security companies as the quarantine hotels were established within 36 hours from March 27. Wednesday August 12: Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has addressed the 21 COVID-19 deaths recorded overnight, marking the country's highest daily death-toll since the start of the pandemic.
The Jobs Minister has now told a parliamentary inquiry that his department soon raised concerns about the capabilities of private security guards on more than one occasion, as this masthead reported earlier this month.
"There were on a couple of occasions early in the program, entreaties from officers of my department, where it was our view that police should be on-site at hotels," Mr Pakula said. He denied private security companies in Victoria’s quarantine hotels were hired as part of a social inclusion policy.
Mr Pakula said while staff who normally work in a social inclusion department helped to hire the security companies, they were not working with a social inclusion goal in mind. "The objective was security," Mr Pakula said. "It was not social inclusion … and the reason that private security was used was because that instruction came to our department from the State Control Centre." Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien called for Mr Andrews’ resignation on Wednesday, calling the quarantine scheme "the single greatest public administration failure in Victoria’s history, if not the country’s history".
"He was trying to cover up his complicity in that terrible, terrible series of mistakes that lead to this hotel quarantine bungle which has led to Victorians being locked down and Victorians dying," Mr O'Brien told ABC Radio.
Mr Andrews said he was not interested in responding to Ms Reynolds' statement. "I'm not interested in spending any longer having these kind of debates with the Commonwealth, with a Commonwealth minister," he said. He also directed journalists' questions on the matter to Mr Crisp.