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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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Premier Daniel Andrews to front hotel quarantine inquiry


“I established the Board of Inquiry into the Hotel Quarantine Program to find the answers that all Victorians are entitled to,” he said.

“Given the program was established as a decision of National Cabinet I always anticipated that I would need to appear in order to provide the context for its beginnings.

“I can confirm I have been asked to appear on Wednesday 23 September and I look forward to assisting the Inquiry in its important work.”

Mr Pakula’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and the Regions hired the security contractors for the quarantine hotels, but evidence to the inquiry has established that it was Ms Mikakos’ Health Department that was in charge of much of the day to day running of the program.

As Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Ms Neville is likely to be questioned about the decision to deploy private security to the hotels instead of police or military personnel after the inquiry heard evidence that former police chief Graham Ashton played a leading role in the decision.

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Some of the other major figures in Victoria’s pandemic response, including Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, his former deputy Annaliese van Diemen as well as Mr Ashton, are due to give evidence this week.

On Tuesday, when the inquiry resumes, it will hear from Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp, who has been at the centre of a debate about whether Australian Defence Force assistance was offered to the Victorian government.

Also on Tuesday, former emergency management commissioner Craig Lapsley will appear along with Chris Eagle from Forest Fire Management Victoria. Mr Eagle, who was seconded to the pandemic response, was one of the key people involved in the day to day management of the scheme when it began in late March.

On Wednesday, Professor Sutton will appear along with Jason Helps and Andrea Spiteri, Health Department officials who previously served as state controllers for health, effectively the lead position in the pandemic response.

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Mr Ashton will appear on Thursday along with police chief Shane Patton.

The inquiry, which began public hearings in late July, has heard revealing evidence of the rushed establishment of the scheme, poor infection control protocols in hotels and substandard training for guards and other workers in the program.

Last week, the probe led by retired judge Jennifer Coate heard health bureaucrats stopped Professor Sutton taking control of the state’s coronavirus response against his wishes and in contradiction to the state’s own pandemic plan.

The inquiry heard that Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck advised her department secretary that Professor Sutton would be too busy in his lead advisory role and as the public face of the pandemic response to also serve as state controller. Professor Sutton didn’t agree with the decision, the inquiry was told.

Senior health officials told the inquiry that the sidelining of Professor Sutton on crucial matters such as hotel quarantine and Melbourne’s curfew had hampered its handling of the pandemic.

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Brett Sutton to face hotel inquiry as commander says she didn’t know who was in charge


Confusion about who was in charge has emerged as one of the critical issues identified by the inquiry, with multiple departments and agencies muddying lines of command and responsibilities.

It meant there were inconsistencies among the hotels in relation to the use of protective gear, infection control and in the treatment of returned travellers and expats detained in quarantine.

Ms Bamert said she understood who was responsible and for what, but staff who were not privy to “higher level conversations” did not clearly understand their roles.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Ben Ihle, showed Ms Bamert an email she had written on May 21 containing the line: “This operation was being managed out of a range of sites with no clear operational structure.”

Ms Bamert was replying to Safer Care Victoria, which was investigating the death of a detainee in hotel quarantine in April, and had alerted department bosses to the lack of clarity.

“In hindsight, I am quite clear what the structures were … clearly I had concerns about the escalation points,” she told the inquiry.

Merrin Bamert, who became a commander of Operation Soteria for the Health Department.

Merrin Bamert, who became a commander of Operation Soteria for the Health Department.Credit:Hotel Quarantine Inquiry.

Her offsider in the department, Pam Williams, also told the inquiry on Friday: “I think the terminology ‘in charge’ is somewhat loaded in the context of this inquiry. I think the person who was co-ordinating and our representative on site was the team leader and we were working as a team.”

It follows other evidence to the inquiry this week that the Health Department blocked Professor Sutton from taking control of the state’s coronavirus response against his wishes and in contradiction of Victoria’s pandemic plan.

Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck said Professor Sutton would be too busy in his lead advisory role and as the public face of the pandemic response to also serve as state controller.

Emergency management experts within the department, Andrea Spiteri and Jason Helps, took the role. Both will be called to the inquiry next week.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp.Credit:Luis Ascui

Mr Crisp is expected to be pressed on two vexed issues – why defence force personnel weren’t deployed in the first few months of the program and when defence force assistance was offered, as well as who decided to use private security instead of police.

The role of police is a key difference between hotel quarantine in Victoria and NSW. In Victoria, police supported private security and authorised officers, but did not have a 24/7 presence inside the hotels.

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In NSW, police are responsible for overseeing the hotel quarantine operation, with assistance from the Australian Defence Force, NSW Health and a private security contractor, according to NSW Health.

Mr Ashton recommended private security be the “first line of security”, according to evidence to the inquiry, but it is not yet clear who made the decision to use the guards.

The inquiry has been told 32 guards contracted COVID-19 while working in the hotels. Victoria’s devastating second wave of the virus has been genomically linked back to seven returned travellers who were quarantined in three different rooms at two hotels, the Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza.

One per cent of more than 20,000 people who went through the program from the end of March until July tested positive to coronavirus, the inquiry heard. International flights landing in Victoria were later suspended due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Ms Williams confirmed during Friday’s evidence that some people who had tested positive and had reached the end of their mandatory 14-day detention were allowed to be released and told to isolate at home.

She said it could have been possible to allow people to leave quarantine earlier if they had tested negative.

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Crown given favourable treatment by ABF: integrity inquiry


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“He was employed by the junket agent as a bodyguard, mainly as a show for the junket agent’s associates,” the ACLEI inquiry found. “[He] should have been aware that this employment could have created a perceived conflict of interest.”

The former border force officer also revealed to ACLEI investigators that he had helped broker the potential purchase of a Vanuatu casino by Mr Zhou.

Mr Zhou’s extensive dealings with Crown were exposed in 2019 in an investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes, into Crown’s dealings with organised criminals as part of its high-roller program. The reporting also revealed the ABF officer’s dealings with Mr Zhou, and prompted both the ACLEI inquiry and an ongoing public inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in NSW by judge Patricia Bergin.

The ACLEI inquiry report makes clear that the organisation only has the power to act on findings of corruption, rather than issues of maladministration that may have endangered the nation’s border security.

“Administrative deficiencies and corruption are not synonymous,” ACLEI explains in its report, even though “poor or lax governance can create a corruption vulnerability”.

The report confirms that Crown had an arrangement with border force to facilitate its visa applications, and that some “Crown-supported visa applications were given favourable visa outcomes due to Crown’s support, despite the visa applicants previously having had been refused visas”.

Tom Zhou's mansion in Melbourne's establishment Toorak.

Tom Zhou’s mansion in Melbourne’s establishment Toorak.

Of 79 Crown-supported visa applications that were refused by immigration officials or withdrawn by Crown due to concerns they would be refused, 21 were later issued visas, the report found. ACLEI’s investigators also uncovered notes attached to three visa cases that showed how Crown had sought to vouch for the integrity of suspect visa applicants.

“These visa processing notes indicate that in these three cases significant weight was given to Crown’s support despite the visa applicants having been previously refused,” the report states.

Another case highlighted by ACLEI involves a Crown high roller who had been given a two-year jail sentence for insider trading but who was still granted a visa.

“Our review of the processing of this visa application has identified administrative shortcomings. The record of the decision does not provide sufficient information to demonstrate how the character test was applied in this case,” ACLEI investigators concluded.

While it did not find evidence of corruption, ACLEI said it had “identified a number of administrative, record-keeping and communication concerns, which, while they did not necessarily lead to corrupt conduct, heighten the risk of the potential for such conduct.”

One example cited was the failure of “Home Affairs and the ABF … to provide all requested information and records,” leading to a warning by ACLEI that “inadequate record keeping may enable corrupt conduct”.

Investigators were also critical of the inadequate record keeping of officials responsible for screening high rollers when they flew into Australia on Crown’s private jets.

“While … documents show that there were existing national procedures and policies in place to manage the arrival of chartered flights, it is concerning that the ABF staff in Melbourne … did not know of their existence,” the report states. “The documentation that we were provided suggests … baggage checks were conducted rarely.”

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“While public administration is not our jurisdiction, lack of adequate record keeping may create a corruption risk. If record keeping is known to be inadequate in an organisation, there is a risk that
staff may feel that corruption or criminality will remain undetected.”

ACLEI’s Integrity Commissioner Michael Griffin announced in October 2019 that it would hold its first ever public hearings into the allegations surrounding Crown but his replacement, recently appointed ACLEI commissioner Jalaa Hinchcliffe, announced in April that these public hearings would be abandoned because of the “significant progress” her investigators had made behind closed doors.

The ACLEI inquiry ultimately conducted only two private hearings, in which witnesses were interviewed under oath, and one other interview. Investigators also reviewed thousands of Home Affairs documents and spoke to more than 360 limousine drivers who picked up Crown high rollers at airports.

ACLEI’s mostly secret inquiry is in stark contrast to the ongoing public inquiry into Crown by NSW judge Patricia Bergin. Ms Bergin’s inquiry has made repeatedly made headlines as it publicly questions Crown executives about the casino firm’s dealings with crime figures and failures to prevent infiltration by organised crime.

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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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Hotel quarantine inquiry told police were concerned about travellers wandering in and out of hotels


“Based on the evidence of nurses and returned travellers, much of which is uncontested, it is open to the Board [of inquiry} to find that there were shortcomings in meeting those needs,” Mr Ihle said.

Ben Ihle, counsel assisting the quarantine inquiry.

Ben Ihle, counsel assisting the quarantine inquiry.

Their needs were the core work of the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.

Summarising the last week of evidence, Mr Ihle said there were conflicting directions and protocols given to those working in the program on the ground because there was no clear line of command nor an understanding about who was in charge.

The barrister said this led to different perspectives and understanding about where the “responsibility for matters of infection control and training lay.”

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The program was established within the 48 hours leading up to the first arrivals of returned international travellers in Melbourne on March 29.

Mr Ihle said the evidence showed ordinary government procurement practices were not followed and that a substantial percentage of security work went to a company, Unified Security, that had previously been refused inclusion on the government panel of preferred security contractors.

That company was almost entirely reliant on subcontractors, Mr Ihle said.

Though the inquiry heard last week the use of private security came at the recommendation of Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, it is still not clear about who decided to use security instead of police.

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“It has proved to be a contentious decision. And there is a range of views about whose decision it actually was,” Mr Ihle said.

“More evidence will be called on that topic next week, including on what other options there might have been for security arrangements.”

But in fresh evidence to the inquiry, Commander Tim Tully said Victoria Police was worried as early as April 15 that hotel guests were being allowed to leave the premises and by the following day, officers were reporting quarantine guests returning to the hotels carrying takeaway coffee cups.

Commander Tully said in his witness statement that he and his colleagues then met with the government officials running the program to ensure that those in charge of security at the hotels were clear about what was expected of them.

The inquiry’s hearing continues.

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Officer in charge tells hotels inquiry that police were ‘not required’


The lack of police presence in hotel quarantine has been a sticking point in the inquiry.

Some security companies who provided guards said having police in charge would have improved the program while a Health Department authorised officer told the inquiry on Friday that police responded so quickly to emergency calls anyway that it would not have made a difference.

The inquiry is investigating the quarantine program because outbreaks among a hotel worker and security guards at two hotels spread into the community and drove Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19.

Mr Tully accepted police would have made a difference given there would be more resources on site, but he didn’t see significant incidents occur inside the hotels or increased risk from the use of security guards that would have made a 24-hour-a day police presence necessary.

“This was at a time when police were required not only to undertake their normal role in protecting the community, but in unprecedented circumstances with the pandemic,” Mr Tully said.

There was “competing demand for very finite police resources,” he said.

“I mean, it goes without saying that in any operational environment the more resources that we have, they are certainly going to make a difference. It probably becomes a question of the efficient use of police resources in this circumstance.”

The inquiry heard Mr Tully was informed a decision had been made that police would provide a support role for private security before the program started on March 29.

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No one was named as the decision-maker in the inquiry but Mr Tully said it did not come from one of the police officers he reported to.

Mr Tully said in the two days before the program began, the force’s role morphed from maintaining a presence during the transition of passengers from the airport, supporting private security in patrols of hotels and responding to requests for police assistance.

Over the 109 days of hotel quarantine, which ran from March 29 until mid-July, there were 131 calls for police assistance, he said.

Only five of them were deemed priority one, or serious calls and two related to the same incident, he said.

“There was a very low number of significant locations,” he said.

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Crown did not monitor ‘money-laundering’ accounts, inquiry told


Mr Preston also said that, contrary to his earlier evidence, Crown was not legally obliged under anti-money laundering laws to report transactions to the accounts above a certain threshold. But he maintained it did have to file suspicious matter reports to AUSTRAC.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp, SC, disputed this and put it to Mr Preston there was in fact no obligation for Crown to report suspicious matters on the accounts because they were not conducting a “designated service” such as provided a gambling service.

“I’m not sure I can answer that question,” Mr Preston said.

The bank accounts in question were held through two shell companies Crown set up called Southbank Investments and Riverbank Investments. Customers could use the accounts to deposit money for gambling with “privacy” given the nondescript company names hid the fact the money was going to a casino, but that also made them susceptible to misuse by criminals, the inquiry has heard.

The inquiry is considering whether Crown should keep the licence for its new casino set to open at Sydney’s Barangaroo at the end of this year, and was launched following reports by this masthead that the ASX-listed group went into business with “junket” tour operators linked to organised crime in Hong Kong and Macau.

Steve Vickers, a former head of criminal intelligence for the Royal Hong Kong Police who now runs a corporate risk consultancy, told the inquiry on Monday that China’s anti-gambling laws and limits on taking cash out of the country meant it was impossible to keep Triad gangsters out of the junket industry.

“Triad activities in junkets are notorious and well known to everybody, frankly, that knows which way is up in Macau,” he said.

“The capital controls exist in China, it’s still illegal to promote gambling in China, it is difficult to enforce gambling debts in China – that’s the underlying cause as to why Triad societies are around.”

Mr Vickers said junkets would invariability need “people who are tough, who are capable of exercising persuasion, of violence to collect” gambling debts incurred at overseas casinos using the junkets’ credit.

However, Mr Vickers said it was possible for regulation to limit criminal influence in the industry. The gold standard was Singapore, he said, where the gambling regulator conducts its own “ruthless” due diligence of any junket a casino wants to works with.

“As a consequence, they have successfully eliminated the bulk of the well-known Triad chaps,” Mr Vickers said.

In NSW and Victoria, Crown and The Star casinos decide themselves which junkets they work with after conducting their own due diligence under a compliance framework approved by the state gambling regulators. The inquiry will continue public hearings on Tuesday.

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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.

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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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