The federal government has slapped down claims from Daniel Andrews that ADF personnel were not offered to manage Victoria’s problem-plagued hotel quarantine system, with the defence minister saying the offer was rejected in March.
Victoria’s chief health officer has revealed he was not asked whether it was appropriate to use security guards to patrol hotels during the state’s failed quarantine program.
Professor Brett Sutton faced questions on Tuesday at a parliamentary committee hearing into the government’s response to coronavirus.
He was asked several times by state Opposition MP Richard Riordan about the decision to use private security guards.
“I was not involved in that decision making whatsoever,” Prof Sutton said.
“I can’t speak to the broader department, but I was not informed of it, and I was not asked for advice.”
Prof Sutton said he was sure senior Department of Health and Human Services officials were involved in the decision, but he wasn’t in relation to contracting security guards.
PREMIER DODGES QUARANTINE QUESTIONS
Premier Daniel Andrews has continued to deflect tough questions about Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine program and its role in creating our second wave of coronavirus cases.
But Mr Andrews was forced to admit initial data, prepared by the Doherty Institute, showed a “significant” number of second wave COVID-19 cases could be linked to the program.
Appearing before the parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) on Tuesday into the state’s coronavirus response, Mr Andrews avoided many questions about the program.
They included why private security was used to patrol hotels and not the Australian Defence Force.
Mr Andrews did say that the use of private security was an extension of services already on the ground and running and that ADF support was not on offer at the time.
Asked if he regrets the decision he responded: “No one wanted a second wave, none of us have the luxury of going back in time.”
Mr Andrews also defended Jobs Minister Martin Pakula, who was singled out for criticism about the program.
Mr Andrews said he would not be calling for Mr Pakula’s resignation and he took full responsibility for the program on his own shoulders.
Under fire from PAEC deputy chair and Liberal MP Richard Riordan, Mr Andrews was also asked how he would take personal responsibility for the most “disastrous economic and social catastrophe in Victorian history”.
Mr Andrews said his sole focus was ensuring Victoria could successfully navigate a path out of the second wave.
Under questioning from Greens MP Sam Hibbins, Mr Andrews defended the government’s handling of a hard lockdown of public housing towers.
In particular, Mr Andrews was quizzed on delays in getting food to residents locked inside their homes.
He said the government was forced to follow the advice of chief health officer Brett Sutton, and urgent action was required.
“Was it perfect, of course not,” Mr Andrews said.
“The ultimate vulnerability here was not whether somebody got fed within five hours or whether they had to wait until the following day to get a bag of groceries.
“The ultimate vulnerability … was this thing infecting everyone in those towers and hundreds of people dying.”
Mr Andrews was appearing before the parliamentary committee to answer questions over his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Victoria’s trouble-plagued hotel quarantine program is tipped be a key focus of the hearing.
Jennifer Coate, who is running an inquiry into the bungled quarantine program, last week gave the all clear for the Premier and other ministers to answer questions over the program, saying there was no risk of prejudice to her inquiry.
Serious failings of the program are believed to have caused Victoria’s deadly second wave.
QUESTIONS FOR THE PREMIER
On what date did you first become aware of issues in hotel quarantine?
Why was the decision made to use private security guards to oversee the hotel quarantine program?
Who made the decision and were you involved?
Why were the police or the army not used, as was the case in other states?
Why was there no basic tender process and what criteria were used to select the security companies?
Why did security firms get the job when you had ordered an inquiry into the industry in 2018?
Which department and minister(s) had ongoing oversight of the program?
What changes, if any, were made to review the program and the use of security guards after the first guard tested positive on May 27?
When was the first allegation of misconduct of security staff raised?
When did you become aware of allegations that private security guards engaged in sexual activity with returned travellers?
Was taxpayer money used to rort the system to pay “ghost” security guards who never existed?
Why was a request for 850 ADF personnel to assist with the program abruptly cancelled shortly after being made?
Who made the decision to cancel this request?
Do you regret your government’s decision to employ security guards to monitor hotel quarantine?
Was the decision to hire private security contractors motivated by an attempt to provide jobs for Labor-affiliated union members?
What advice, if any, did the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee provide on the running of the hotel quarantine program?
Does the latest genomic testing show that all cases during the second wave are linked to hotel quarantine? If not, what percentage are?
#RichardRiordanMP, #LovePolwarth, #HeraldSun, #VoiceOfTheBush, #LetsGetBackToWork, #ShareTheVision, #Covid19, #CoronaVirus, #Colac, #MaskUp, #InThisTogether, #NoTimeForPolitics, #VicNews, #DanielAndrews