Australia Victorian health officials were concerned about 'cowboy' security industry, hotel quarantine inquiry hears

10:31  22 september  2020
10:31  22 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

'ADF available': Police chief diary note contradicts Andrews on military

  'ADF available': Police chief diary note contradicts Andrews on military Diary notes made by Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton seem to directly contradict comments to Parliament by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over the offer of military assistance in hotel quarantine.One note in Mr Patton's diary in the crucial days leading up to the quarantine program starting on March 29 says: "ADF available re hotels static guarding of those sites".

Victoria ’s hotel quarantine inquiry has also heard that one security guard who contracted Covid-19 at Rydges on Swanston was only given one mask The inquiry has previously heard the Rydges on Swanston hotel has been linked to an estimated 90% of cases in Melbourne during the second wave.

The inquiry has been hearing from officials about the use of private security guards in the troubled program. Photograph: James Ross/AAP. The head of the Victorian premier’s department has told the hotel quarantine inquiry he is “unaware” who made the decision to use private security guards

a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a window: The head of the jobs department, Simon Phemister, says he did not ask who made the decision to use private security. (Supplied: COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry) © Provided by ABC Health The head of the jobs department, Simon Phemister, says he did not ask who made the decision to use private security. (Supplied: COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry)

Messages between bureaucrats tasked with finding private security firms for Victoria's hotel quarantine program reveal officials were concerned they were dealing with a "cowboy industry".

WhatsApp exchanges between Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) staffers discussed names of potential companies, as well as the reputations of different security providers.

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  Fewer virus cases keep Melbourne on track Victoria's daily infection rate is on track towards the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions come September 28, with more anti-lockdown protests expected.The state recorded 21 new cases in the 24 hours to Saturday morning, its lowest figure since June 24.

Witness tells hotel quarantine inquiry security guards did not use PPE correctly. Health officials lost track of returned travellers staying in Melbourne's hotel quarantine scheme and threats of The inquiry before former Judge Jennifer Coate previously heard 99 per cent of Victoria 's current cases

The inquiry into Victorian hotel quarantine , headed by former judge Jennifer Coate, has heard that a compulsory “It could be better targeted.” Victorian advice recommended against PPE. On the afternoon of the first hearing day, Arthur Moses SC, acting for private security firm Unified Security

The messages have been tendered as evidence at the state's COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry.

The inquiry is looking into the decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors to find out what went wrong with the hotel quarantine program.

Simon Phemister, the DJPR secretary, said the messages were between an engagement team charged with finding the best security firms to guard people in quarantine.

"We needed firms that were going to work with us, that had a track record of working with government," he told the inquiry.

But members of the message group expressed concerns over the use of private firms.

"Gotta be careful with a lot of security companies. Heaps of cash work [redacted]," one person wrote.

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Victorian health authorities had advised against the widespread use of masks by staff, the hotel quarantine inquiry has heard . A senior public servant tasked with establishing Victoria ’s hotel quarantine program was rebuffed after suggesting police take a lead role guarding return travellers

A Victorian jobs department official wrote to colleagues that they didn’t want “rogue” security guards “prowling the corridors” of quarantine hotels , while another pointed out private security was a " cowboy industry ". Text messages between Simon Phemister and his colleagues at the jobs

Another described security as a "cowboy industry".

Another person in the chat said: "Needs to be reputable. Don't want [redacted] rogue [redacted] prowling the corridors."

Private security firms hired 36 hours before hotel quarantine program began

Mr Phemister was first told private security firms were the preferred method of guarding the hotels by senior DJPR official Claire Febey.

Ms Febey attended a meeting at the State Control Centre at 4:30pm on March 27, less than 36 hours before the program was due to start.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp was also at the meeting, along with senior members of Victoria Police and the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

"The critical component from the debrief (from the meeting) was that we had been asked to commission private security for the operation (hotel quarantine)," Mr Phemister said.

He added he did not ask who had made the decision to engage private companies.

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Documents published online, given to the inquiry by Victoria police, revealed that the Victoria police commander, Tim Tully, was sent multiple emails by a former police officer who raised concerns about how private security was managing hotel quarantine . Photographs were sent to Tully that appeared

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"I didn't ask who, I knew who was attending the meeting and I knew of the calibre of military officials and State Control Centre officials and leadership and the Victoria Police officials so I didn't pause to ask who made those decisions," Mr Phemister said.

The top bureaucrat said members of the meeting had the expertise and "authority" to determine how the hotels were guarded.

Mr Phemister said it was not possible the decision to engage private security firms had been made earlier in the day, which had been suggested in other witness evidence at the inquiry.

"My department did not put in any mechanisms to engage private security until after the debrief I received," he said.

"The day was measured in minutes, not hours … every time a decision was banked and we were commissioned to act, we did so immediately.

"Off the back of the debrief, I immediately commenced the process of private security, I would have done that earlier had I been aware of it earlier."

Security firm not on Government's preferred list paid more than others

Mr Phemister said his team spent valuable time searching for private security companies for the program, despite the Government having already listed preferred operators on a public website.

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Victoria 's Emergency Management Commissioner has told the inquiry into the state's hotel quarantine program he refused support from the Australian Defence Force to help secure the You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Victoria 's Emergency Management Commissioner has told the inquiry into the state's hotel quarantine program he refused support from the Australian Defence Force to help secure the You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

He said the team "could have saved time" had they known the list existed.

Mr Phermister was also asked why Unified Security Group, a company not on the Government's preferred list, was paid more than the other providers.

The DJPR paid the contractor $49.95 an hour, per guard provided.

This is compared to Wilsons Security that was on the preferred list, and charged $45.21 an hour.

Unified Security Group also charged more on Sundays, added a daily meal allowance to the contract and charged the Government for personal protective equipment (PPE).

Despite being more expensive, the Government used more of Unified's guards — 1,750 compared to Wilsons Security's 650.

Mr Phemister said his team did take into account "value for money" as well as other safety factors.

"By the time we accepted those base rates, it came to more qualitative factors," he told the hearing.

But counsel assisting Rachel Ellyard told the board Unified Security Group guards were not being paid more, despite the company charging higher rates.

"There doesn't, on the evidence available to the board, appear to be any suggestions that the rates paid to sub-contractors or to end staff were any higher for Unified than they were for other contractors."

'Unwise' to speculate on replacement program, Premier says

Premier Daniel Andrews will appear at the inquiry on Friday, after originally being slated to appear on Wednesday.

In a tense exchange with journalists at his press conference on Tuesday, Mr Andrews would not comment on previous evidence provided by senior members of his bureaucracy.

"You can make judgements on the memories of others," he said. "When I appear before the inquiry I'll answer questions as honestly, frankly, clearly as possible."

He reiterated that unacceptable errors had been made in the program.

"Mistakes have been made in this program, they are not acceptable to me. I don't think anyone … is in any doubt about my views on that matter. These mistakes are unacceptable."

Mr Andrews said it would be "unwise" to speculate on what the new quarantine program would look like.

"We need to wait for the thing we don't have yet, which is the report."

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Victoria records just 12 new COVID-19 cases in major step forward .
Victoria has recorded just 12 new COVID-19 cases and one more death in the past 24 hours, in another major step forward for the state.  The Department of Health and Human Services announced one of the lowest death tolls in months on Saturday.Metropolitan Melbourne is currently in the First Step to reopening the state - but could move to the second step soon.The Second Step is when the daily average case rate drops between 30 to 50 cases over a 14-day period.The DHHS announced this wouldn't happen before September 28.

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