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National cabinet documents might not be available to state hotel inquiry


Sources familiar with the establishment of the Victorian inquiry believe it may need to access records of discussions that took place at the May 27 national cabinet meeting in order to get a full understanding of state responsibilities for quarantine and what role the Australian Defence Force was to play.

That meeting of national cabinet was where hotel quarantine arrangements were put in place.

A fierce political row erupted this week between Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds over the issue of ADF assistance for the quarantine program across several Melbourne hotels.

Infection control breaches at two Melbourne quarantine hotels have been blamed for the second wave of COVID-19 spreading into the Victorian community in late March through hotel staff and contract security guards.

Cabinet confidentiality provisions at both state and Federal levels protect records of discussions between ministers or documents prepared for cabinet submission from disclosure through Freedom of Information or other forms of inquiry.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet recently invoked those provisions in response to an FOI request from South Australian Senator Rex Patrick for minutes and other information from national cabinet meetings.

Asked about national cabinet confidentiality on Friday, Mr Andrews said: “The absolutely frank answer is, I don’t know what rules would be applied. A national cabinet … is essentially as I understand it … a subcommittee of the federal cabinet in terms of its legal status.

Daniel Andrews on Thursday.

Daniel Andrews on Thursday.Credit:Darrian Traynor

“I need to get some legal advice on that … but those documents are not owned by us … they’re part of a national process. That’ll be something that the chair of national cabinet [Mr Morrison] might have a view on.”

Monash University constitutional law expert Luke Beck said the Commonwealth’s contention that secrecy provisions could be applied to a committee consisting of the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders was “very uncertain”.

Associate Professor Beck said state and territory leaders were accountable to their own parliaments, and he predicted that an attempt to assert cabinet confidentiality over their meetings would likely lead to legal challenges that could go all the way to the High Court.

“Cabinets exist by tradition and convention. The status of this national cabinet is a really interesting and tricky legal question,” he said.

Senator Patrick has foreshadowed a legal challenge to the government’s position on national cabinet and access to information, arguing it does not meet the definition of a properly constituted cabinet.

While he stressed he supported the normal conventions around the confidentiality of policy deliberations by ministers and documents specifically created to inform cabinet, it was a stretch to apply it to national cabinet.

“The PM is trying to expand the umbrella under which secrecy applies. My firm view is that the national cabinet is not a cabinet for the purposes of the FOI Act,” Senator Patrick said.

A spokesman for the Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry said the board of inquiry had the power to provide written notices to demand the production of documents or attendance notice to give evidence as a witness. Any individual or agency planning on not complying with a request must provide a “reasonable excuse” that the public interest in keeping information secret outweighs the public benefit from its disclosure.

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Victorian government departments that have been asked to cooperate with the inquiry have engaged independent legal advice from Melbourne’s top tier firms.

If an individual or department claims public interest immunity over documents sought by the inquiry, Judge Coate has the ability to ask the Supreme Court of Victoria to intervene and rule on the admissibility of the material.

Asked if he intended to assert cabinet confidentiality over any Victorian documents, Mr Andrews said he expected Ms Coate to be given all documents she believed necessary.

“She should have the fullest picture of what’s got going on so that she can give us the answers that we all need,” he said

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Federal government contradicts Andrews on key hotel quarantine question


The argument came on a day when 19 more deaths were confirmed, including a woman in her 50s, and 331 new cases of coronavirus emerged. Victoria has been warned to brace for more deaths, despite hope the number of new infections may be flattening.

The parliamentary hearing revealed that 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” made up of 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.

The ADF was consistently advised that its assistance was not required for any ‘public facing roles’ in Victoria.

Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds

No single department or minister was responsible for overseeing the program, or deciding to use private security guards instead of police and ADF, the inquiry heard.

The botched program has triggered a catastrophic new wave of coronavirus cases, forcing Melbourne into a strict stage four lockdown, while genomic sequencing by the Doherty Institute shows a “significant” proportion of the state’s cases in the second wave could be traced to quarantine breaches at hotels.

Under questioning from opposition MPs about the system, Mr Andrews said, “I don’t believe ADF support was on offer and ADF support has been provided in very limited circumstances in NSW, not to provide security, as such, but to provide transport from the airport to hotels.”

“I think it is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there were hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow, somebody said no. That’s just not, in my judgment, accurate,” the Premier said.

However, in a statement on March 27, the day hotel quarantine was announced, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government “will be supporting [the states] also by providing members of the Australian Defence Force to assist in the compliance with these arrangements”.

Hours after Mr Andrews gave his evidence, Senator Reynolds said the ADF had “discussed requirements with relevant state and territory authorities” on March 27 and the following day, “Victorian authorities advised that Victoria was not seeking ADF assistance with mandatory quarantine arrangements”.

“The ADF was consistently advised that its assistance was not required for any ‘public facing roles’ in Victoria,” Senator Reynolds’ statement said.

“ADF officials asked whether Victorian authorities required assistance with its mandatory quarantine system on multiple occasions [in late March and early April]. No request for quarantine support was subsequently received from Victoria at that time.

'Not responsible for every single department': Health Minister Jenny Mikakos gives evidence at the parliamentary committee hearing.

‘Not responsible for every single department’: Health Minister Jenny Mikakos gives evidence at the parliamentary committee hearing.

“On 12 April 2020, Victorian authorities reaffirmed to ADF officials that all quarantine compliance monitoring operations were within Victorian authorities’ capacity. Defence agreed to requests for support to quarantine compliance from Queensland and NSW on 28 March.”

After Senator Reynolds’ statement, Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Premier had “lied to Parliament and lied to Victorians”.

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“This dishonest attempt to cover up Labor’s hotel quarantine scandal shows that Daniel Andrews is only interested in protecting his miserable government, not in telling the truth,” Mr O’Brien said.

Victorian authorities, including Mr Andrews, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, DHHS secretary Kym Peake and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton faced a grilling on Tuesday at the public accounts and estimates committee’s inquiry into Victoria’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Peake told the inquiry her team had three roles in managing the hotel quarantine program: develop a plan, provide health support, and issue legal directions. She said the DHHS, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Victoria Police, Department of Transport and Department of Premier and Cabinet were all responsible for the scheme’s governance.

“And so under the emergency management arrangements, the plans are signed off by the Emergency Management Commissioner on recommendation of the governance group,” Ms Peake said.

Ms Mikakos also gave evidence, saying the scheme was a “multi-agency” effort.

“I’m responsible for my own department, but I am not responsible for every single department across the government,” she said.

Professor Sutton said prior to the outbreak in hotel quarantine, the main issues raised were not about private security guards or infection control.

“It was around the coordination of data, the coordination of welfare support from medical and nursing staffing, and some of the issues around subcontracting health staff,” Professor Sutton said. “They were referred, as appropriate, to the quarantine command structure, which I was not a part of.”

He added he was not asked for advice about the use of private security for the hotel quarantine scheme.

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Retired judge Jennifer Coate is leading the inquiry into the handling of the Melbourne quarantine program, and will report back in November.

Emergency Management Victoria was contacted for comment.

The Victorian opposition is demanding Parliament sits next week to ensure the government, handed unprecedented powers during the state of disaster, is being held accountable.

Parliament’s upper house sat last week, in defiance of advice from the Chief Health Officer.

Liberal MP and upper house leader David Davis said the government should be embracing alternatives to sitting in person, such as remote video-conferencing technology or sitting in small groups for small periods, to make sure the opposition could still perform its oversight function.

With David Estcourt

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Hotel quarantine inquiry postponed until August 17 over COVID-19 fears


The much-anticipated inquiry into the Victorian Government’s bungled hotel quarantine program will be postponed due to Melbourne’s stage-four lockdown.

Three key medical and scientific witnesses were set to give evidence at 10am on Thursday, but Judge Jennifer Coate announced proceedings would be delayed until August 17.

“My first consideration is the safety of all those working with us and supporting us,” she announced at an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

“I am acutely aware of the community’s need to have a thorough understanding of what has happened with hotel quarantine and the ramifications it has had on all of us.”

Ms Coate said it would require significant technological work to host tomorrow’s inquiry at 10am, but did not wish to rush the process.

“I do not want an inquiry of such importance and magnitude to suffer from a less thorough process,” she said.

The inquiry’s findings will be handed down six weeks later after Premier Daniel Andrews agreed to the judge’s proposed extension.

Ms Coate said more than 166,000 documents from government departments and private entities had been gathered so far.

The State Government has been able to dodge questions about hotel quarantine, saying the matter is being probed by a judicial inquiry and is therefore inappropriate to provide commentary.

But the Premier was confident the judicial inquiry would deliver the right answers.

“I am confident that process will give us the answers that we are each entitled to,” he said.

“What has gone here is completely unacceptable to me and unacceptable to all of us but the best thing to do is to have that proper understanding of exactly what has gone on.”

The inquiry was launched by the State Government after it was revealed protocol breaches by security guards overseeing hotel quarantine had led to outbreaks in Victoria.

Retired judge Jennifer Coate is overseeing the inquiry, with senior assisting counsel Tony Neal.

At the first hearing on July 20, the inquiry heard there was evidence that many if not all of the state’s cases could be linked to the hotel outbreaks.

Victoria recorded 725 cases on Thursday, eclipsing the state’s deadliest daily total of 723 infections last week.



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Hotel Jesmond, Wallsend Diggers on alert over COVID-19


A pub and a club in the NSW Hunter region are the latest venues to close for deep cleaning after a person from Sydney visited while infectious with COVID-19.

NSW Health issued a warning on Sunday night, urging anyone who visited Hotel Jesmond (July 29 between 7.30pm and 9.30pm) or Wallsend Diggers (July 30 between 7.30pm and 9.30pm) to self-isolate for 14 days

“Get tested regardless of symptoms, but you must remain in isolation for the full 14 days even if your initial test is negative. If you do develop COVID-19 symptoms, you should be retested,” the statement said.

It is understood a confirmed Sydney case visited Newcastle on July 29 and 30.

The venues were deep cleaned overnight.

Dr David Durrheim, public health controller for Hunter New England Health’s COVID-19 response, said the local health department was still working to contact patrons who were at the venues because they “may be at risk of infection”.

“This action (isolating) is vital to limit the spread of the virus,” he said.

“I encourage everyone to follow directions they receive about home isolation and quarantine, and maintain COVID-safe practices.”

A drive-through testing site is in operation at the nearby University of Newcastle. Otherwise, locals can be tested at 4Cyte Pathology’s COVID-19 clinic at Central Church, Warners Bay.

NSW recorded 12 new coronavirus cases on Sunday. Only one was a returned traveller in hotel quarantine.

Ten were linked to known clusters or close contacts and one case remains under investigation.



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Inside Victoria’s massive hotel quarantine bungle


Victoria’s descent into a new wave of infections started amid a scandal over quarantine and security breaches in a series of Melbourne hotels.

Last month, Melbourne’s quarantine hotels were identified as a key source behind the virus’s terrifying escalation throughout the state.

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Since March, all travellers returning from overseas have been made to isolate for 14 days in their hotel rooms.

But a scandal over quarantine and security breaches in a series of Melbourne hotels helped create the city’s predicament today – millions of Australians in stage 4 lockdown, with more than 650 cases announced on Sunday alone.

A Sunday night 60 Minutes special looked into how things went so terribly wrong for Victoria.

‘CHEAP AND NASTY PRODUCT’: SECURITY SYSTEM SLAMMED

Private security contractors who were involved in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system have been blamed for the bungled quarantine program.

Several insiders said the use of private subcontractors without medical training to run the system meant hired staff were not properly trained or given personal protective equipment, and did not take the job as seriously as they should have.

Josh Reeve, a security veteran who specialises in A-list clients, said the private security company hired by the Victorian government was a “botched program”.

“Unfortunately, it’s the result of a cheap and nasty product,” he told 60 Minutes.

“The reputation of the security industry at the moment in most people’s eyes is that it’s ineffective – and through some of the things that we have seen alleged is worse than ineffective.

“I think the fact that the industry has that reputation indicates it it’s as bad as it could be. It’s negligent, it’s complacent.”

Even guards who were deployed to the hotel security assignment said it was poorly organised.

One guard, given the alias “John” in the segment, worked at six of Melbourne’s 12 quarantine hotels for two months.

John was first contacted back in April, three weeks after the Victorian government announced plans to hire private security firms to guard quarantine hotels.

He said the caller who hired him was more interested in his readiness than his experience.

“He was a subcontractor and asked me if I’m still willing to work in security. I said, ‘Yeah, of course I am’. So he said, ‘Okay, you just WhatsApp me your license and your availability”.

John said it was “a bit strange” that he heard from the caller via WhatsApp, noting it was “totally unprofessional” and revealing there was no formal interview or training.

“When I reached there, I asked him, ‘So what are my duties and what am I supposed to do?’ He said, ‘Go on this floor and ask the security guard what you’re supposed to do’.

“I went on the floor and the other security guard was like, ‘It’s also my first day here’. And that’s a bit strange.

“He told me that if someone comes out of the room, we just have to tell them to stay inside. That’s it. That was my induction or whatever you call it.”

One of the six hotels John worked at was the Rydges on Swanston, where a cluster of guards became infected with COVID-19.

“Everyone was sitting outside of their rooms without any PPE, because they told us not to wear any mask,” he told the program.

But he said the real problem was when the guards’ shifts ended. Situated next to the Rydges Hotel was a 7-Eleven and a KFC. Guards with COVID-19 would go there during their breaks – not knowing they had the virus and were unwittingly spreading it.

John also claimed some of the guards were falling asleep on the job, saying they were working up to 84 hours a week.

Returning travellers Ricky Singh and Kate Hyslop, who were put in hotel quarantine for two weeks, told the program they were not once tested for the virus during that period.

They said their biggest fear was the security guards outside their door, because they “weren’t wearing masks” and “would sleep on the ground”.

“Quite often they wouldn’t even hear us open our door because they’d have their earphones in and be on the phone, or talking with another security guard and having a laugh. It just seemed like the whole idea of hotel quarantine was a joke at that point.”

‘THERE’S NO PROPER REGULATION’

Four months ago, when the Victorian government approached security firms to guard the quarantine hotels, three security companies won the contract.

These companies were MSS, Unified and Wilson Security.

But they didn’t call security guards directly. Rather, they used industry subcontractors, who would recruit security guards for the hotels.

One subcontractor, named “Roger” on the program, told 60 Minutes that “anyone can do anything” under the system.

“There’s no proper regulation,” he said. “Who’s getting work, who’s not getting work – there’s no criteria. It’s like anyone can do anything.”

He said subcontractors found and approached security guards from websites like Seek and Gumtree.

Claims that guards had sex with infected guests at either the Rydges Hotel or the Stamford Plaza were also aired on breakfast TV and in Victorian newspapers last month.

The Herald Sun reported allegations that hotel guards slept with guests staying at the hotels during quarantine.

It was also alleged guests were allowed to move between rooms under the watch of guards hired by private security firms.

Roger said he had been aware of these rumours. “I was told that a guard had sex with a guest, yes,” he said.

A judicial inquiry will look into the claims and reported failings of Victoria’s hotel quarantine system.

John agreed that the behaviour of some of his colleagues was appalling, but he said the blame ultimately fell on his bosses for not training and vetting the guards.

“It’s gross negligence. Absolutely.”



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Watsons Bay Hotel fined for social distancing breach


Sydney’s iconic Watsons Bay Hotel has copped a hefty fine after it was caught not following social distancing rules properly.

The eastern suburbs pub was hit with a $5000 infringement after authorities conducted a spot check and noticed it had failed to create a safe environment for customers on Friday night.

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Patrons were standing and drinking and gaming machines were not spaced out, according to Liquor and Gaming NSW.

Undercover officers attended the hotel on July 31 and observed that all gaming machines were operational — meaning there was no way there could be 1.5m between gaming machines.

This was contrary to the venue’s COVID Safety Plan, which stated “every second machine has been disabled in the gaming room”.

Patrons were also sighted seated less than 1.5m apart.

Acting Director of Compliance for Liquor and Gaming NSW Dimitri Argeres said 15 venues had been fined in the past three weeks.

“While most venues are making serious efforts to comply with all the conditions, it’s disappointing that some are simply not getting the message,” Mr Argeres said.

“Flouting these measures is not only bad for the health and safety of patrons; it’s also bad for business.”

It’s not the only place struggling to adhere to social distancing; yesterday images emerged of packed trains and platforms at Town Hall station.

One image showed a carriage of passengers crammed together on a service to Bondi Junction — an area near Potts Point, a COVID-19 hotspot.



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Premier’s hotel quarantine inquiry leaves us in the dark


But with each passing day, it has looked more and more like this inquiry, with its stated aim of providing answers about the quarantine debacle, has had the opposite effect, contributing to the withholding of information from the public and the scientific community.

The Premier, his ministers and even their Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton – who looks like he has a lot he would like to say – have all consistently batted away questions on the quarantine scandal, referring to the inquiry where, it is hoped, all will be revealed.

But in the immediate absence of real answers and evidence, a thousand conspiracy theories have been hatched, some of them pretty far-fetched and none of them doing Andrews or his government any favours.

Daniel Andrews on Saturday.

Daniel Andrews on Saturday.Credit:Penny Stephens

Another notion that hasn’t been proven but has also stuck fast is that every one of the cases of the virus in Victoria’s second wave can be traced back to hotel quarantine.

Sutton famously said that was conceivably true, with Coate’s counsel assisting, Tony Neale, taking those words and running with them in his opening statement to the inquiry on July 20. But we don’t really know.

That’s because the genomic sequencing, the viral detective work that can trace the exact route of the spread of COVID-19 cluster or outbreak, has not been publicly released by the Doherty Institute, the world-class Melbourne research facility that has done the work

The institute has cited the inquiry as the reason for not releasing the data.

Nor has the real time genomic sequencing believed to be in use by Sutton’s team been made public – the Chief Health Officer says the data is not his to release.

It’s all in stark contrast to NSW, where authorities speak freely and in detail of their use of genomic technology as a valuable tool to identify the origins of clusters and outbreaks.

Talking of Victoria’s northern neighbour, when NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian called an inquiry into the Ruby Princess scandal, witnesses were answering questions on live TV within seven days, not 40.

That’s not the only reason Berejiklian is travelling well through this stage of the pandemic while Andrews is besieged by critics; the NSW Premier hasn’t had to report more than 700 cases in one day with 13 lives lost.

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But the contrast in approach cannot be ignored.

In the end, the long gap between calling for the inquiry and reporting its findings may have another unpleasant consequence for Andrews and his government.

It may have given people ample time to believe everything they have heard and make up their minds about who was to blame.

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Hotel stays for 2000 homeless extended until April under $150m package


Premier Daniel Andrews said this was the state’s opportunity to help break the cycle of homelessness.

Daniel Andrews addresses the media on Monday.

Daniel Andrews addresses the media on Monday.Credit:JOE ARMAO

“This pandemic has laid bare many inequalities,” Mr Andrews said. “You can’t stay home if you don’t have one and you can’t wash your hands regularly if you don’t have access to the bare basics of hot water and soap.”

People staying in hotels will be provided with tailored help – including mental health, drug and alcohol, and family violence support – which will continue when they move into long-term housing.

The funding will be allocated to homelessness agencies in metropolitan and regional areas.

Bevan Warner, the chief executive of homelessness organisation Launch Housing, said the “very positive” package demonstrated that homelessness was solvable.

Launch Housing CEO Bevan Warner has welcomed the package and now wants the the federal government to "turbocharge the recovery with more social housing".

Launch Housing CEO Bevan Warner has welcomed the package and now wants the the federal government to “turbocharge the recovery with more social housing”.Credit:Scott McNaughton

“We can end homelessness, but not without more homes and more support. This announcement provides both,” he said.

“We now need to get the federal government to take the expert economic advice and to turbocharge the recovery with more social housing, so the homes get built to avoid future instances of homelessness.”

The Council to Homeless Persons said the funding would make an “enormous difference”.

“Around 2000 people are currently in hotels, including over 220 children, over 500 women and more than 1100 single households,” the council said.

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“With the lockdown increasing levels of family violence and resulting in job losses, more people are coming to homeless services needing accommodation.”

The council said there was a need for permanent housing for people who could not pay rent in the private market when subsidies ran out.

Social housing makes up only about 3.2 per cent of all housing in the state, well below the national average of 4.5 per cent.

In May the Victorian government announced a $500 million package to build 168 new social housing units and upgrade 23,000 run-down units.

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Hotel quarantine security done on the cheap via subcontractors, says guard


“I was hired one night before when quarantine starts in hotels. All guards who worked in these hotels didn’t have proper PPE [personal protective equipment] training, no induction, nothing,” he said.

“Security guards used to eat together and hug each other. When I start working in Rydges on Swanston, I didn’t know that all the guests living in rooms are confirmed COVID patients. Guards were instructed to take these people for walks on the rooftop walking area and guards just wear a mask and share lifts with these people.”

Other casual guards have complained that another subcontractor did not pay them.

He also claimed that, after the state government announced its inquiry into hotel quarantine, the guards were handed a confidentiality agreement requiring them not to divulge any information about “the affairs of SSG” or their clients.

“When all this comes into news and government decided inquiry about this, they gave us this form to fill up,” he said.

There is no independent way of verifying the timing of this form being handed out. Confidentiality agreements are standard across the security industry. The owners of Sterling Security Group could not be reached for comment and its business website appears to have been disabled in late May.

Correspondence seen by The Age and Herald between a host of other guards shows another security subcontractor involved in hotel quarantine has also been accused of underpayment and subsequently reported to police.

The decision by the Andrews government to use private security to guard the hotels rather than police, corrections or Defence personnel has drawn strong criticism from the opposition and sections of the public.

An inquiry headed by retired judge Jennifer Coate into the role of security guards at quarantine hotels began on Monday. Public hearings begin in August and a report will be released in September. The inquiry will examine the extent to which Victoria’s present surge of infections, which has killed 29 people, can be linked to failures in the hotel quarantine program.

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Unified Security, which was not on the government’s panel of security providers, engaged five subcontractors to provide guards. The company, which ended up overseeing security at 13 hotels, said it required all sub-contractors to comply with industrial obligations and conduct audits to ensure correct payments to staff.

“Unified was not aware of any breaches of any industrial obligations by Unified’s subcontractors. Had we been made aware of those matters we would have taken action including investigating the allegations and if true Unified would have taken steps to ensure that employees were being paid correctly or sought to terminate the contract,” the company said.

Unified Security also said it was the responsibility of state authorities to handle infection control in hotels. It said its staff and subcontractors were properly trained and had access to personal protective equipment.

In June, just as the extent of the hotel quarantine failures were becoming clear, the Andrews government released a review into the security industry which found it “characterised by a workforce that is highly casualised, relatively low-paid and transient”.

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Government ‘decision-makers’ to be called to hotel quarantine inquiry


“Everybody should participate fully, but how the inquiry’s run is a function of both the terms of reference which I believe are more than adequate, as well as the budget that’s more than adequate,” he said.

“As to how it’s conducted beyond that, that’s entirely a matter of Justice Coate and I’m confident that she will do that work well.

Security guards at the Stamford Plaza in the Melbourne CBD have been linked to a coronavirus outbreak.

Security guards at the Stamford Plaza in the Melbourne CBD have been linked to a coronavirus outbreak.Credit:Getty Images

“What went on here is completely unacceptable to me … The best thing to do is to have that proper understanding of exactly what went on.”

In addition to government bureaucrats, individual hotel staff, security guards and members of the public could be called to give evidence.

More than a dozen hotels and security companies have been put on notice and asked to submit responses to the inquiry, which opened in Melbourne on Monday.

“I expect no less than full, frank and timely cooperation from all government entities and persons to enable me to do my job for the people of Victoria,” Justice Coate said.

Justice Jennifer Coate on the first day of the hotel quarantine inquiry.

Justice Jennifer Coate on the first day of the hotel quarantine inquiry. Credit:Getty Images

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Tony Neal, QC, said evidence already before the inquiry suggested a possible link between the current COVID-19 outbreaks in the community and the hotel quarantine program.

“Comments made by the Chief Health Officer to the media have suggested that it may even be that every case of COVID-19 in Victoria in recent weeks could be sourced to the hotel quarantine program,” Mr Neal said.

“Increasingly in recent weeks there has been growing and understandable community concern about transmission from that program into the general community.”

Tony Neal, QC, said evidence already before the inquiry suggests Melbourne's second surge in COVID-19 cases could be linked back to the failed hotel quarantine program.

Tony Neal, QC, said evidence already before the inquiry suggests Melbourne’s second surge in COVID-19 cases could be linked back to the failed hotel quarantine program.Credit:Getty Images

The Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, the Department of Justice, Victoria Police, Emergency Management Victoria and Ambulance Victoria are of interest to the inquiry, he said.

Mr Neal also named six hotels that have been put on notice, including the Rydges on Swanston which has been linked to 16 cases so far and the Stamford Plaza, which has been linked to 43.

Also on the list are Travelodge Melbourne, Park Royal Hotel Melbourne Airport, Holiday Inn Melbourne and Four Points Sheraton.

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Eight security companies have also been given notice, including MSS Security, Unified Security Group and Wilson Security, which have been linked to the hotels where outbreaks emerged.

The remaining contractors include United Risk Management, Ultimate Protection Services, Elite Protection Services Australia, Australian Protection Group and The Security Hub.

The inquiry will examine the key decisions behind the hotel quarantine scheme, including contractual decisions, the suitability of contractors and the supervision, training and resourcing of security guards.

Mr Neal warned employers face significant penalties if they attempt to deter employees from giving evidence to the inquiry.

The inquiry, which has the power to force government agencies to produce documents, is adjourned until August 6, when the first round of witnesses will be called.

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Mr Neal said the inquiry also has the power to suppress information it deems sensitive that could cause harm or prejudice legal proceedings.

The Premier established the inquiry on July 2 after Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said genomic sequencing revealed most, if not all, of Melbourne’s second surge in coronavirus cases could be linked to security guards from hotel quarantine.

Since the first security guard at Rydges on Swanston tested positive on May 27, the quarantine program has been blighted by complaints of inadequate training, shortages of personal protective equipment and individual breaches of guidelines by security guards.

After the first cluster emerged at Rydges on Swanston, a second outbreak linked to the Stamford Plaza hotel spread to 43 security guards and their close contacts.

with Paul Sakkal

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