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Vic jobs minister faces COVID-19 inquiry

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

By Benita Kolovos

The fateful decision to use private security to guard Victoria's returned travellers in hotel quarantine was made a day before the program began, it has been revealed.

The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions was assigned responsibility for hiring private security following a meeting at the State Control Centre on the afternoon of March 27.

The hotel quarantine program began on 11:59pm on March 28.

"We volunteered to run the procurement for private security after that meeting," department secretary Simon Phemister told the Victorian parliament's public accounts and estimates committee's COVID-19 inquiry on Wednesday.

He said Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp chaired the meeting.

Mr Phemister said he did not know why security guards were chosen over Australian Defence Force personnel.

"I don't know what went into that decision-making process of the experts in the State Control Centre," he said.

Infection control breaches by security guards have been blamed for sparking the state's second wave of coronavirus, which has killed hundreds and led to the nation's toughest lockdown.

Jobs Minister Martin Pakula told the inquiry his department was not responsible for infection control at the hotels.

That responsibility lay with the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.

"People from my department, whether it be from the Global Victoria team or elsewhere, were primarily responsible for things like logistics," he said.

"That would be the booking of rooms and the organising of meals and laundry and things of that nature."

It comes after a video was leaked on Tuesday of public servants from Global Victoria congratulating themselves for setting up the hotel quarantine program within 24 hours.

Mr Pakula said it would not be sensible for people from Global Victoria to be responsible for things like infection control and "they were not".

In a statement issued overnight, Mr Crisp said the ADF was involved in the initial planning of the hotel quarantine program on March 27 and 28.

"During these discussions, I did not seek nor did representatives of the ADF offer assistance as part of the hotel quarantine program," he said.

It comes after Premier Daniel Andrews told the inquiry on Tuesday the ADF were never offered to guard the hotels.

Federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds released a statement which contradicted his evidence, insisting ADF support was offered to Victoria "on multiple occasions".

"I can't speak to statements issued by the Defence Minister. That's entirely a matter for her. But I can direct you to comments - very clear comments - made by Andrew Crisp," Mr Andrews said on Wednesday.

"You will need to draw your own conclusions."

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