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Local News - Victoria

Lisa Neville to speak; Martin Pakula not aware of departmental concerns over ‘rogue guards’


She said she “didn’t have a particular view about it”, but “I would have liked to have known about the request”.

Mr Crisp rescinded his request that same day, with a decision later made to bring in Corrections Victoria officers.

The news sparked text messages between Ms Neville and Mr Crisp that morning.

“The use of army in hotels? That was not agreed to at CCs yesterday but is that we doing? And what will they be doing?” Ms Neville texted.

Ms Neville told the inquiry: “The texts indicate I was a bit surprised and I was trying to receive clarity about what I had read in the paper.”

She said finding out about an expanded ADF role from the media left her “pretty cranky”.

She texted Mr Crisp: “Not sure what they do at hotels given no one leaves!! And they have no powers.”

Ms Neville told the inquiry that at the time she sent the text message to Mr Crisp she was “still slightly cranky that I had discovered the whole thing by The Herald Sun article just after midnight”.

“I was still relatively annoyed about it,” she said.

“I think that probably more reflects I was pretty cranky at that point.”

She said she was concerned Australian Defence Force personnel had no powers to enforce hotel quarantine.



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Brett Sutton tells hotel inquiry he did not know security guards had a key role


“My team and I did not have oversight in relation to infection prevention and control personnel and processes in place at each hotel,” he said.

Professor Sutton’s deputy, Annaliese van Diemen, said in her evidence that “everybody has responsibility in some way, shape or form”, prompting a query from Arthur Moses, QC, the counsel for security guard company Unified: “Are you trying to blame others?”

Former deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen.

Former deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen.Credit:The Age

Dr van Diemen had earlier warned that the hotel quarantine program was being run as a “logistics or compliance exercise” rather than a health program, meaning she “lost the opportunity” to know if infection control measures, including the use of protective gear, were adhered to in the hotels.

Private security guards, many working as casual subcontractors at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in Carlton and the CBD’s Stamford Plaza, spread the virus from returned travellers into the wider community. Professor Sutton told the inquiry that, “with the benefit of hindsight”, the use of such an insecure workforce was unfortunate.

“I can see that using a highly casualised workforce, generally from a lower socio-economic background, where that means that poor leave provisions, limit how one can care for and financially support one’s family if unwell,” he said.

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Many of the staff guarding the hotels combined multiple jobs “across different industries to maintain an adequate income, creating transmission risk”, Professor Sutton said. Guards also often came from relatively larger families and larger networks of friends, “which creates additional transmission risks should they become unwell”.

The evidence came as Premier Daniel Andrews, who set up the $3 million inquiry, once again declined to comment on accusations that he lied to Parliament by saying in August that soldiers working in hotel quarantine in other states had not been offered to Victoria. Mr Andrews will appear before the inquiry next week.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos was also quizzed in State Parliament on Wednesday about whether she was aware of the offer by Canberra to deploy the army in quarantine hotels.

“I was not aware of any offers of Australian Defence Force support when hotel quarantine was established,” she said. “I’ve not been involved in approving the structures or the operational plan of this program.”

Professor Sutton told the inquiry that there had been instances where security staff in hotels did not appear to trust the information provided to them about infection control. “In particular about how to wear PPE gear, and the use of hand sanitiser, in particular … concerns about using an alcohol-based sanitiser”.

This hand sanitiser concern was also included in notes from the manager of Your Nursing Agency, the company employed to supply nursing staff to quarantine hotels. In mid-June, the company’s manager noted that security guards had informed the agency “they were concerned about using hand sanitiser because it is against their religion”.

The same notes said the registered nurse working at one hotel “raised a complaint of a lack of infection control awareness and [the] sense that security were disinterested in use of PPE”.

The nurse reported “security staff had masks under their noses, were not removing gloves and even going to the bathroom with gloves on”. The nurse told the nursing agency that “something needs to be done with security to keep everyone safe”.

The inquiry heard that an email sent by Deputy Public Health Commander Dr Finn Romanes, a former deputy chief health officer, warned on April 9 of “a lack of a unified plan for this program”. This warning, made just two weeks after the hotel program began, said there was “considerable risk” that unless issues were addressed there would be a risk to the health and safety of detainees.

Dr Romanes requested an urgent governance review of the program and said it needed a clear leader and direct line of accountability. Professor Sutton said he backed Dr Romanes’ email. “Dr Romanes was acting on behalf of me,” he said.

It also emerged at the inquiry that the deputy state controller Chris Eagle – who was coordinating information between the agencies involved in hotel quarantine – was warned the day after the hotels program began that there needed to be a proper police presence.

The Department of Jobs Precincts and Region’s executive director of Priority Projects, Claire Febey, warned Mr Eagle after a highly agitated guest quarantining at the Crown Metropole left his room and went to the ground floor foyer for a cigarette that better security was needed.

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“We strongly recommend that private security is not adequate given they have no powers to exercise. Can you please escalate our request for a permanent police presence at each hotel,” she wrote.

Chief Commissioner Shane Patton and his predecessor, Graham Ashton, will appear before the inquiry on Thursday.

Dr van Diemen said that, before the hotels program began in March, health officials considered quarantining returned travellers at home using electronic surveillance to keep them secure.

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Hotel security guards made wider COVID-19 outbreaks more likely, inquiry hears


The inquiry was shown text messages from the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association expressing frustration at the state Health Department after he raised concerns about the quarantine program with officials in mid-April.

“Why are they so secretive?” Professor Julian Rait asked a colleague in a message.

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The head of the department’s investigation into the Rydges on Swanston outbreak, Dr Simon Crouch, told the inquiry he thought early on that the hotel environment could have been causing transmission.

The Rydges cluster has been identified as the source of 90 per cent of Victoria’s coronavirus second surge, which grew from just eight initial infections mostly among security guards at the hotel to cause more than 500 deaths and drive Melbourne into a stage four lockdown.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Ben Ihle put it to Dr Crouch that conditions at Rydges on Swanston made a wider outbreak not only likely but inevitable.

“Given what we know now about the practices that were in place at the time that those initial transmission events occurred, as stated in this report, there was a high risk of transmission of coronavirus from returned travellers to people working in that setting,” Dr Crouch replied.

Mr Ihle repeatedly put it to Dr Crouch and to his Health Department colleague Sarah McGuinness that an opportunity may have been lost to control the outbreak by isolating workers from Rydges earlier. Dr McGuinness agreed the decision “may have had an impact”.

Dr Sarah McGuinness before the inquiry on Tuesday.

Dr Sarah McGuinness before the inquiry on Tuesday.

Another Health Department expert, senior medical adviser Dr Clare Looker, told the inquiry in a witness statement that the demographic profile of the private security workforce made it more difficult to control the outbreak.

She said the security guard cohort often worked in multiple jobs and many of the guards that tested positive to COVID-19 lived in large, crowded households.

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“The workforce was also largely casual and so many had and were required to have more than one job to sustain themselves and/or their families,” Dr Looker wrote.

“They were also a young, fit and socially active cohort and tended not to seek testing even if symptomatic until it was required on day 11 of their quarantine period.”

By that time, there was transmission within their household, according to the senior health official.

There were also language issues and at times a distrust of government services.

“It was challenging to obtain accurate information,” Dr Looker said.

The inquiry heard a positive case who was linked to the Rydges on Swanston outbreak lied to contact tracers, and did not tell investigators they had a housemate.

Another infected person told contact tracers he lived alone, but he was in fact sharing a room with someone else.

The inquiry hearings continue on Thursday.

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Melbourne quarantine inquiry: Guards ‘harassed’ hotel staff


The manager of a hotel where most of Victoria’s current coronavirus cases can be traced back to has admitted security guards “harassed” female staff members.

Rydges on Swanston general manager Rosswyn Menezes told Melbourne’s hotel quarantine inquiry on Friday he was aware of inappropriate behaviour by security guards on May 10.

“Some security guards were harassing a few of my female staff members by passing certain comments and a few words,” he said.

Mr Menezes said he passed “an email from one of my colleagues” onto representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

He went on to say the individual security guards were then stood down and later terminated.

It comes after disturbing revelations emerged during a hearing on Thursday that a security guard at the Crowne Plaza hotel slipped a note under a guest’s door which said: “Hey hun, add me on Snapchat”.

The incident led top bureaucrats to contemplate ceasing to use private firm Wilson Security, according to an email chain tendered to the inquiry.

Outbreaks at Rydges on Swanston in May are thought to be responsible for 90 per cent of the state’s current coronavirus cases.

From April 27, it became a “COVID hotel” and hosted returned travellers diagnosed with coronavirus.

Almost 90 per cent of the 350 quarantined guests had the virus.

70 GUARDS GATHERED IN ONE ROOM

About 70 security guards blatantly breached social distancing and gathered in the same room during a changeover of shifts at the Stamford Plaza Hotel, Friday’s inquiry heard.

Assisting counsellor at Friday’s hearing, Tony Neal, referenced minutes of a meeting where a number of health and safety issues were documented at the hotel in Melbourne’s CBD.

“Approximately 70 guards had a handover in one room and there was no social distancing when saying goodbye at this change of shifts,” he read out.

When questioned about the matter, the hotel’s general manager Karl Unterfrauner said he had not witnessed it due to being in self-isolation at the time, but confirmed the incident involving the MSS Security guards occurred a day before an outbreak in the hotel.

Issues about guards not wearing gloves when handling guests’ luggage was also revealed.

When asked about how the hotel quarantine program could be improved, Mr Unterfrauner cited communication.

“The program now is much more refined than it was two or three months ago,” he said.

“The communication process should have a singular point of contact to make communication more streamlined – under the Department of Corrections this has been something they really developed.”

A total of 913 guests went through quarantine at the Stamford Plaza Hotel, with 20 testing positive for coronavirus.

HOTEL GUARDS STOLE GUEST TOWELS FOR NAPS

Quarantine security guards stole towels – meant for detained guests – and used them as pillows while they napped on the floors of hotel corridors, an inquiry has heard.

Crown executive general manager Shaun D’Cruz told the inquiry security staff had gone into the back-of-house where linen was stored and “noticed someone had come into and used the towels”.

When questioned by the inquiry’s assisting counsellor Rachel Ellyard if the towels were being used by security guards as pillows to take naps in the corridors, Mr D’Cruz replied: “Yes, it appears so.

“They were not permitted to go into that area – that was another reason as to why I specifically brought that up because that’s something they were not supposed to do at all.”

Mr D’Cruz told the inquiry he had also noticed evidence of smoking in the hotel’s fire stairwells on vacated floors, as well as security guards “congregating” and breaching social distancing.

“There had been evidence of smoking in the fire stairwells and that a chair and wall furniture had been damaged,” he said.

“In regards to the using of facilities we provided in the way of parking … there was a report about congregating in the driveway, which seemed to breach social distancing rules. That was brought to my attention by surveillance teams – that was also reported.”

Four Points by Sheraton general manager Stephen Ferrigno also told the inquiry he was concerned with the “diligence with which the security guards were performing their task”.

“They spent a lot of time watching content on their telephones, having conversations on their mobile – just generally in a fairly passive mode – sitting down for hours at a time,” he said.

Mr Ferrigno then gave evidence of an incident on June 25 where a hotel guest wandered through the site unsupervised.

“I was sitting in the rest room having a hotel briefing with two senior managers when I observed a person walking across the lobby … he had no shoes, jeans and a T-shirt and a mask covering his mouth, not nose.”

Mr Ferrigno said he told the guest to go back to his room, which he refused, until a security guard then escorted the guest back upstairs.

“I had access to CCTV which clearly shows the individual exiting his room, to progress to the lift – the guard is not wearing a mask and looking at his phone, he seems engaged in this process. The lift then arrives and the guest enters and at that point CCTV shows the guard looking up as the doors close.”

Mr Ferrigno said he escalated the incident to the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions site manager, who “referred us back to the security guard site supervisor and didn’t do anything with this information”.

Mr Ferrigno then alerted Victoria Police and escalated the incident to the Department of Health and Human Services and “other government departments “to highlight my concerns”, to which he received “no response”.

ILL-EQUIPPED TO FEED GUESTS

One quarantine hotel was severely ill-equipped to feed big numbers of overseas travellers, with “little information” about dietary requirements handed over at check-in.

TravelLodge Docklands general manager Ram Mandyam said he was “shocked” to discover the first busloads of passengers from a South American flight on April 10 “hadn’t been fed for hours”.

He then had “no prior notice” on dietary requirements when staff handed over room keys to the guests.

“TravelLodge is a limited service hotel – we provide comfortable accommodation and a healthy breakfast – we do not have a fully-equipped kitchen, we don’t have a bar or restaurant,” Mr Mandyam said.

“What we were trying to achieve during a span of 14 days was catering close to 1000 meals a day with 100 various dietary requirements. This put a fair bit of strain in dealing with this process in an orderly fashion.

“As we did not have prior notice what guests’ dietary requirements were in the initial few days of the program, it made those few days very challenging in general to deal with.”

Mr Mandyam said it was a “huge disappointment” for guests.

“Mainly because they felt they weren’t given a choice, they were detained and weren’t given a choice to get out of their room, they had no choice to have food of their liking – it’s fair to say we had young children or toddlers who we couldn’t always cater to given the circumstances.”

The inquiry continues next week.

Staff from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, who established the hotel quarantine program, gave evidence at the inquiry on Thursday.

Victoria recorded 113 new coronavirus cases overnight and 12 more deaths on Friday.

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au



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Victoria Police wanted security guards in quarantine hotels, inquiry told


The Executive Director of Priority Projects for the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions told the inquiry on Thursday morning that just hours before the first planes carrying returned travellers were due to touch down at Tullamarine, the bureaucrats running the quarantine program were still not clear on the legal basis of detaining travellers in the hotels.

The $3 million inquiry, led by retired judge Jennifer Coate, was set up by the state government after hotels used for quarantine – Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza – were identified by genomic testing as the source of Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19 which has cost hundreds of lives and forced Melbourne into tough stage four restrictions.

Ms Febey said the Department of Health and Human Services had firmly taken control of the program by Sunday, March 29, leaving DJPR as a ‘support agency’ with responsibility for hiring security and cleaners.

But with the benefit of hindsight, Ms Febey told the inquiry, it may have been better if DHHS was in charge of the contracting arrangements.

She said there was still uncertainty in mid-April – when she stopped working on the quarantine program – about which of the two departments were responsible for directing the private security guards working in the hotels.

She was initially told she would be in charge of setting up the program on March 27, however, as the day went on she understood there was going to be a meeting with multiple agencies involved.

Ms Febey said it was in that meeting that she first became aware of what view Victoria Police held about what their role would be.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp and Victoria Police Commander Mick Grainger were both in the meeting, she said.

“Was that the point, as you describe in your statement … it was Victoria Police’s preference that private security be the first line of security?” counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard asked.

“That’s right,” Ms Febey replied.



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Hotel quarantine guards told ‘no need for face masks’ in training guides


“Yes, I do,” Professor Grayson replied.

The professor, the first witness to give evidence at the inquiry, was also shown excerpts from Australian government training modules provided to security guards titled: “How to protect yourself and the people you are caring for from infection with COVID-19.”

One question read: “Everyone should be wearing a mask to prevent COVID-19, true or false?”

If the participant answered “true”, a pop-up box would say, “You did not select the correct response,” the inquiry heard.

Under another section titled “What about masks?”, the guide stated, “Wearing a face mask in public won’t help to protect you from infection”.

The training module was not updated until July 25.

Professor Grayson said he assumed the document was designed for community education rather than quarantine staff.

“I think clearly this is misleading for healthcare workers or quarantine staff if they thought they didn’t need to wear a mask, when I would consider it crucial if they were in likely contact with a potentially infectious patient,” he said.

Professor Lindsay Grayson gives evidence at the inquiry into Victoria's hotel quarantine program via video link on Monday.

Professor Lindsay Grayson gives evidence at the inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program via video link on Monday.

Professor Grayson said the advice was “completely inaccurate” for healthcare workers and quarantine staff.

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“It was the complete opposite of what we teach regarding PPE,” he said.

The $3 million inquiry, led by former judge Jennifer Coate, is investigating the outbreaks among staff and private security guards at the Rydges on Swanston hotel and Stamford Plaza, which have been linked to many, if not all, of Victoria’s second-surge infections.

Professor Grayson said anyone working in a quarantine setting should wear full PPE at all times, even for simple tasks including removing a meal tray or escorting someone outside.

“Whether it is in a hotel or anywhere else, the principles are meant to be the same,” he said.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Tony Neal, QC, said the quarantine program, dubbed Operation Soteria after the Greek goddess of rescue and safety, was initially set up in 48 hours.

“Decisions were made very quickly and in the absence, it seems, of precise lines of responsibility, control, supervision and management,” he said.

Tony Neal, QC, speaking at the Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry via video link on Monday.

Tony Neal, QC, speaking at the Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry via video link on Monday.

Mr Neal said the program did not initially include an active frontline role for the Australian Defence Force or Victoria Police. “Why that is so, is an issue for this inquiry,” he said.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed last week that patient zero in the surge now plaguing the state was not a badly behaved security guard but a night duty manager at the Rydges hotel on Swanston Street, one of the busiest quarantine hotels, labelled the “red hotel”.

The Rydges on Swanston hotel was the source of a major outbreak linked to Victoria's second surge of coronavirus.

The Rydges on Swanston hotel was the source of a major outbreak linked to Victoria’s second surge of coronavirus.Credit:Getty Images

Security guards have previously told The Age and the Herald they were provided with one pair of gloves and one mask for each 12-hour shift and started work with very little or no training.

Professor Grayson said direct contact with infected people just before, or at the start of their symptoms, was the highest risk and any use of PPE without proper training put people at risk. “Just to have PPE but to do it wrongly is a risk,” he said.

Mr Neal noted that thousands of workers at Victoria’s quarantine hotels did not become infected with COVID-19, despite crucial failures at Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza.

But he said that meant the program ultimately failed.

“If the intent of the program was to prevent travellers from infecting other people with COVID-19, then to that extent it fell short of its goal,” Mr Neal said.

Hotel inquiry legal line-up

  • Tony Neal, QC, the lead lawyer acting for the inquiry, also known as the counsel assisting
  • Claire Harris, QC, for the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Helen Tiplady, representing the Department of Justice and Community Safety
  • Richard Attiwill, QC, representing the Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Andrew Woods, representing Rydges Hotels Limited
  • Stephen Palmer, representing the Melbourne Hotel Group
  • Julie Condon, QC, representing the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
  • Arthur Moses, SC, representing Unified Security

So far COVID-19 has killed 334 people in Victoria and on Monday the state confiurmed 282 new cases and 25 deaths in the previous 24 hours – a record number of fatalities for a single day.

A parliamentary public accounts and estimates committee hearing was told last week that Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp signed off on the hotel quarantine plans, under the recommendation of the scheme’s governance group. That 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.

Mr Neal confirmed government ministers would be called to give evidence before the inquiry delivers its findings on November 6.

The hearings are expected to run for all of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week.

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Casual security guards sought for Alfred Health quarantine hotels


The advertisement promised successful applications would be provided with “relevant training” and personal protective equipment.

Workers would represent the Alfred Hospital as a “professional, responsive and committed employee”, and while experience in a healthcare environment was considered “advantageous” it was not essential.

“It will be essential to foster an environment of trust with colleagues, patients and clinical staff … by maintaining both professional and medical confidentiality at all times (and) responding appropriately and within outlined procedures to any emergency,” the advertisement said.

Leaked emails this week revealed patient zero was not a security guard but a night manager working at the Rydges Hotel in May. Pictured is a worker from a cleaning company.

Leaked emails this week revealed patient zero was not a security guard but a night manager working at the Rydges Hotel in May. Pictured is a worker from a cleaning company.Credit:Justin McManus

The advertisement was removed from the Sidekicker platform after Spotless and Alfred Health were contacted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Neither Spotless nor Alfred Health responded to questions, referring inquiries to the Department of Justice and Community Services.

A spokeswoman for the department said that Spotless staff had been “temporarily carrying out limited administrative and support tasks during the transition of the quarantine program”, and had been subcontracted by Alfred Health which looks after hotels with positive cases.

“(The department) has strengthened infection control, professional standards and oversight across quarantine accommodation, as it continues to develop a new operating model,” the spokeswoman said.

“All resident supervision is now provided by Corrections Victoria and Victoria Police, replacing the private security guards who previously provided this function under existing contracts with (the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions).”

Premier Daniel Andrews said on Saturday he was “confident” Alfred Health had arrangements in place to provide the best and safest healthcare at the ‘hot’ hotel for quarantined COVID-19 cases.

“The hotel that the Alfred is running is essentially a hospital, they’re a campus of that health setting. That’s not to say security is unimportant, it isn’t, it’s very important,” he said.

“I’m confident (Alfred Health) have arrangements in place … not only looking after those people who need looking after, but also protecting all of us by doing nothing that would add to the number of cases in the broader Victorian community.”

When the inquiry was announced on July 2, Corrections Victoria took over management of Melbourne’s hotel quarantine following infection control protocols being broken by staff members.

The program is not accepting overseas travellers at the moment, instead catering for healthcare workers and vulnerable people who are required to self-isolate as well as homeless people.

Security guards have previously told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that DHHS did not provide them with infection control training before outbreaks at Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Hotel.

Leaked emails this week revealed patient zero was not a security guard but a night manager working at the Rydges Hotel in May. Soon after the manager had entered mandatory isolation, five out of seven security guards – all from contractor Unified Security – had contracted COVID-19.

Genomic sequencing by the Doherty Institute previously revealed a significant portion – if not all – of Victoria’s second-wave cases may be traced back to staff working inside hotel quarantine.

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Quarantine hotel guards pumped up Working for Victoria job scheme numbers


The hotel program and the ministers responsible remain under intense scrutiny after breaches of hygiene protocols and other failings led to some of the outbreaks currently running through Melbourne’s suburbs, which have been linked to hundreds of new coronavirus cases.

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The state government says the Working for Victoria scheme, part of its $2.7 billion pandemic economic survival package, has helped nearly 7500 Victorians whose employment was hit by the pandemic back into work.

The program, launched in April, is designed to place workers in jobs with the state and local governments, and act as a jobs portal for the private sector. Guards employed at quarantine hotels were already on the books of the security companies appointed to the scheme.

The teams of cleaners patrolling Melbourne streets sanitising public infrastructure are the most visible presence of the scheme.

But the scheme also includes the nearly 1274 security guards deployed to the quarantine hotels, according to internal “jobs placement breakdown” lists from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and the Regions, which runs Working for Victoria and was instrumental in setting up the ill-fated hotel isolation program.

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With some of those guards now blamed for the breakout of the virus from the hotels into the Melbourne community, the government insists that it did not hire the guards through Working for Victoria, saying they were nearly all existing employees of the three security companies contracted for the quarantine hotels.

The internal lists go on to disclose that “new roles through government demanding additional services or goods beyond what would otherwise be provided,” without the pandemic are included in Working for Victoria’s numbers.

Mr Pakula’s office confirmed anyone working in a job created as direct result of the COVID crisis might be counted as a Working for Victoria placement.

Mr Pakula’s office has previously confirmed the three firms, Unified Security, MSS and Wilson, were chosen on the basis of their ability to quickly deploy a large number of trained guards to the quarantine hotels.

A spokesman for Mr Pakula said it would allow the judicial inquiry established to investigate the quarantine debacle to do its work.

“A judicial inquiry has been established at arm’s length from government to examine issues relating to hotel quarantine,” the spokesman said.

“We will let the inquiry do its work – our focus remains on containing this virus.”

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Premier’s team takes cover over hotel quarantine security guards


At least five travellers from Victoria’s coronavirus hotspots were detected at Sydney Airport, where they face fines of $11,000 or six months’ jail under NSW border restrictions, after flying in on Thursday.

The government is trying to contain outbreaks in the Melbourne’s north and west, many of which have been traced directly back to the isolation hotels.

A $3 million inquiry into the scandal has been set up to find answers about the decision making at the start of the quarantine program.

Details emerged on Thursday of a bureaucratic snarl involving the departments of Health, Jobs, Premier and Cabinet, Emergency Management Victoria and the Victoria Police, which resulted in the decision to hire the private security firms whose employees are being blamed for carrying the virus from the hotels into the community.

The agencies and departments, working under the umbrella of Emergency Management Victoria, have wide powers to make far-reaching decisions when operating in an officially declared state of emergency.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville avoided questions on Thursday about which of her cabinet colleagues were involved in the rapid planning of the quarantine hotels program.

It remains unclear if any Labor government minister or Premier Daniel Andrews knew before the hotels began receiving returned travellers for their mandatory 14-day quarantine that private security would be used to guard the sites.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Professor Brett Sutton, said the move to post private security guards at quarantine hotels 'wasn't mine'.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Professor Brett Sutton, said the move to post private security guards at quarantine hotels ‘wasn’t mine’.Credit:Eddie Jim

There are now 415 active cases of the virus in Victoria and there have been a cumulative 332 infections since the pandemic began which authorities believe have been acquired in the community.

Both Professor Sutton and Chief Commissioner Patton said on Thursday that they played no role in the snap decision in May to draft in three private security firms to guard the hotels housing the returned travellers.

Senior state bureaucrats were given little more than 24 hours to put a plan in place to begin receiving returned travellers after the national cabinet approved the policy on March 27, with flights carrying returnees due at Tullamarine from midnight the following day.

The government has confirmed it bypassed the usual tender process when it hired security outfits MSS, Unified and Wilson to deliver security arrangements within the hotel quarantine program, citing the urgency of the effort.

The hotel quarantine program has now been placed under the supervision of prison service Corrections Victoria, while retired judge Jennifer Coate begins her inquiry into the debacle with a reporting date set for September 24.

The terms of reference for the inquiry require Justice Coate and her staff to inquire into the actions of the government, its agencies, contractors and hotels.

Professor Sutton said on Thursday that he had had nothing to do with the decision to hire the private contractors.

“It [the decision] wasn’t mine, I haven’t been involved in the governance and operation,” he said.

“But it was jointly oversighted by emergency management within the Department of Health and Human Services, Emergency Management Victoria and Department of Jobs Precinct and Regions.”

Mr Patton said he had not personally been involved in planning the quarantine effort but indicated that police had a role in the decision making.

Asked if police had refused to have officers stationed inside the hotels, he said he had had no discussions about the program.

“I certainly haven’t had any conversations in relation to the quarantine,” Mr Patton said.

“Decisions were being made with other organisations on what was the most appropriate way for quarantine to be looked after.”

Police Minister Lisa Neville, the only senior Labor government minister to talk to the media on Thursday, was reluctant to speak about the role of ministers in the decision to hire private security, saying the inquiry would look at all aspects of the affair.

The minister stressed the fast-paced environment facing the government’s departments and agencies when they put the quarantine system in place.

“There are a range of people that are involved in making decisions about how you implement a quarantine decision of that nature,” Ms Neville said.

“We did it in 24 hours, decisions were made by various agencies, and I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus, rightly or wrongly.

“Let’s see what the inquiry finds about those decisions.”

When asked why Victoria’s quarantine was run differently to other states, Ms Neville said: “Every state runs their emergency management system in a very different way. In NSW it’s run by the police … that is not the case in Victoria. In health emergencies, it’s health.”

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The secretaries of the departments of Jobs, Precincts and the Regions, Premier and Cabinet, Health and Human Services and the Emergency Services Commissioner either declined to comment on Thursday or did not respond to requests for comment.

Wilson Security said in a statement that it does not provide security services to the Rydges on Swanston or the Stamford Plaza , the two sites confirmed as part of the outbreaks.

The security firm said it used proper hygiene practices and protective equipment at the hotels where it was operating and that none of its workers had tested positive to the virus.

MSS Security declined to comment and Unified Security did not respond to a request for comment.

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Prison guard’s alleged sexual relationship with inmate at Sydney jail


A female prison guard is facing up to two years in jail after being charged with having an alleged sexual relationship with an inmate at a Sydney jail.

Melissa Goodwin, 25, was arrested at her home in Ingleburn in the city’s west this morning by investigators and taken to Campbelltown Station.

She was charged with holder of public office misconduct and engage in relationship with inmate cause safety risk and granted bail to appear in court in July.

“The allegation is there were five sexual acts, separate incidents, at the facility,” Detective Inspector Robert Hollows, Commander of Corrective Services Investigation Unit, told reporters.

She is also accused of smuggling in contraband items for her lover at Silverwater jail, including tobacco, cigarette lighters and chewing gum.

Police began investigating a week ago after a referral from Goodwin’s employer, Corrective Services.

It’s alleged the sexual relationship began in November last year.

After the alleged relationship was exposed last week, the inmate had to be moved to another facility. Goodwin has been stood down.

It has also been revealed that the woman was already under investigation for a second relationship with a former inmate at the jail.

“We are aware that she was suspended (but) currently that’s not a police investigation and we do understand it’s managerial and in relation to failing to declare an association with a former inmate,” Detective Inspector Hollows said.

Corrective Services is investigating that matter.



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