Tag: inquiry

Hotel inquiry told Graham Ashton set the deadly wheels in motion to hire private security


By Wayne Flower, Melbourne Correspondent

06:28 30 Nov 2020, updated 06:28 30 Nov 2020

  • Former top cop had text messages telling federal police of the decision
  • Graham Ashton told inquiry he cannot remember who it was that told him 
  • Counsel assisting inquiry suggests Mr Ashton first mentioned private security
  • Inquiry had heard not a single minister, staffer or cop knows who made the call 
  • An official finding will be revealed  by the inquiry just days before Christmas
  • Professor Brett Sutton came under fire for withholding scores of relevant emails 

Victoria’s top cop was most likely behind the implementation of private security at quarantine hotels instead of police, an inquiry has heard.

As the hotel inquiry draws to its end date just days before Christmas, counsel assisting the inquiry has launched a stinging attack on former Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton. 

In a day that has seen Victoria Police belted by the royal commission into police informers, the hotel inquiry has been told the idea to use private security at hotels likely began with Mr Ashton on the day the program was conceived. 

Former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton takes on oath on the bible to tell the truth at the inquiry into Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program
Former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton text messages his federal colleague advising that the order to use private security came from the premier’s office
Private security has been accused of bungling the hotel quarantine operation and causing Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID-19

The inquiry had previously heard there had been a ‘creeping assumption’ that private security had got the gig following a meeting between Mr Ashton and government officials on March 27. 

Quarantine breaches involving private security guards seeded 99 per cent of Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID infections, which in turn has led to more than 800 deaths of the elderly. 

The inquiry ran for months and when it ended in October heard not a single person could identify who made the decision to hire the private security guards. 

It was a starting assumption which, enforced by Victoria Police’s preference and in the absence of opposition, ultimately became the position. 

In its closing submissions, the five barristers making up counsel assisting the inquiry suggested a series of text messages between the former police chief and Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Reece Kershaw on the afternoon of March 27 were telling. 

The texts showed Mr Ashton had been working under the impression private security would guard hotels and not police or troops. 

‘An inference can and should be drawn that private security was mentioned in the conversation between Mr Ashton and (Department of Premier and Cabinet boss) Chris Eccles at 1:17pm,’ counsel submitted. 

‘As neither participant could recall the conversation, it is not possible to say what was said, or which of the two men raised the topic.

‘However, it was that conversation which was the source of the understanding that Mr Ashton referred to in his subsequent texts to Commissioner Kershaw,’

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Brett Sutton, Daniel Andrews evidence released by COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry

Brett Sutton’s anger at how Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was set up without his input has been laid bare in an email released by the inquiry into the scheme.

The state’s Chief Health Officer said it was “astounding” that he and his deputy, Annaliese van Diemen, were excluded from the planning process for the scheme, known as Operation Soteria, despite having legal responsibility for it.

The tensions are revealed in an April 13 email from Professor Sutton to Euan Wallace, the CEO of Safer Care Victoria, which is responsible for patient and hospital safety.

In it, Professor Sutton said Operation Soteria was set up and put in place through Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) “without even getting my approval or even input”.

“Annaliese [van Dieman] was similarly excluded. That, in and of itself, is astounding to us.

“It was seen as an almost wholly logistic exercise and had EM [Emergency Management Victoria] governance without an understanding of where accountability sat, or perhaps should sit.”

He said because hotel quarantine was a policy recommendation from National Cabinet, state chief health officers needed to issue directions for its implementation — which made them legally accountable for it.

“In this case Annaliese wrote the direction —so was effectively the ‘maker’ of the entire scheme and has responsibility in law for it,” he wrote.

A “disconnect” with EMV colleagues meant they “effectively excluded those with significant accountability”, he wrote.

In previous evidence, Professor Sutton told the inquiry he believed he should have been appointed to the role of ‘state controller’, so he had better oversight of pandemic responses for which he bore some responsibility.

Dozens of documents released by inquiry

The COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry has been looking into the beleaguered scheme after its failures were blamed for Victoria’s devastating second wave of the virus.

On Friday afternoon, it released dozens of documents, including affidavits from Professor Sutton and Premier Daniel Andrews, phone records from top staffers at the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Mr Andrews’s office, and emails from various departments.

The inquiry requested the additional material to try and determine who was involved in the decision to engage private security at the quarantine hotels and at what point Professor Sutton knew private security guards were being used — matters that weren’t resolved by the inquiry’s last hearing in September.

Professor Sutton has said he did not know private security was being used in the scheme until he read about it in the media — even though he was copied into an email about that plan.

Premier Daniel Andrews, in his affidavit, also maintained he played no role in determining that private

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Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry calls for police to be on site 24 hours a day

When hotel quarantine resumes in Victoria, police should be on site 24 hours a day and infection control experts should be “embedded” in each facility, an inquiry set up to examine the system’s previous failings has recommended.



a building with a store on the corner of a street: Photograph: Speed Media/Rex/Shutterstock


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Photograph: Speed Media/Rex/Shutterstock

The inquiry’s interim report, released on Friday, also suggests all staff working in quarantine hotels should be properly paid “with terms and conditions that address the possible need to self-isolate in the event of an infection or possible infection” of coronavirus.

The former judge Jennifer Coate, who oversaw the inquiry, made 69 recommendations including that police be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week; that hotels have infection prevention and control expertise on site; and that all staff be supported “including the need to relocate if necessary and have a managed return to work”.



a building with a store on the corner of a street: The Stamford Plaza hotel in Melbourne. Much of the inquiry focused on the use private security instead of Victoria police. So far no one has been found to have been responsible for making that decision.


© Photograph: Speed Media/Rex/Shutterstock
The Stamford Plaza hotel in Melbourne. Much of the inquiry focused on the use private security instead of Victoria police. So far no one has been found to have been responsible for making that decision.

The site manager at each hotel would be responsible for ensuring workers have the appropriate infection control expertise and access to personal protective equipment. Each site should also have a contact tracing unit embedded in the event of an outbreak, the interim report states.

Related: NSW-Victoria border to reopen, as China trade fears grow – as it happened

Much of the inquiry has focused on a decision made on 27 March to use private security instead of Victoria police at the hotels. So far no one has been found to have been responsible for making that decision.

The inquiry heard one of the major issues with the program – which was established in late March and has so far cost almost $200m – was a lack of clear lines of responsibility within the public service and among ministers. Several departments had different roles to play.

Coate on Friday recommended the establishment of a governing body, chaired by the secretary of the responsible department reporting to their minister, to oversee the program. Coate said hotel quarantine in Victoria should have “a clear line of command vesting ultimate responsibility in the approved department and minister”.

“The responsible minister ensures that the departmental structure for the operation of the program has clearly defined roles that have the necessary expertise and advice embedded at appropriate levels of seniority in the operational structure, forming a governance body,” she recommended.

The minister should be provided regular reports on the operation of the program, across all hotels, Coate said.

Under the proposed new model, hotels would continue to be used for returned travellers where appropriate but they must be near hospitals and be modified to ensure people can be physically separated so the risk of transmission is kept to a minimum. The facilities must also allow for returned travellers to safely have fresh air breaks.

The state government should have better control over the number of

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Australia inquiry says police should guard hotel quarantine

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Overseas travelers should be quarantined in hotels guarded by police, an inquiry into an Australian city’s bungled quarantine program reported on Friday.



A passenger from New Zealand arrives at the International Airport in Sydney, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Australia's largest city Sydney lifted quarantine restrictions on travelers from New Zealand while the second largest city, Melbourne, marked the 100th day of one the world's longest pandemic lockdowns. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image via AP)


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A passenger from New Zealand arrives at the International Airport in Sydney, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Australia’s largest city Sydney lifted quarantine restrictions on travelers from New Zealand while the second largest city, Melbourne, marked the 100th day of one the world’s longest pandemic lockdowns. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image via AP)

The Victoria state government’s decision to use private security firms instead of police and the military to enforce quarantine in Melbourne hotels has been widely blamed for lax infection controls that led to Australia’s worst virus resurgence in its second-largest city.

An inquiry into that quarantine program recommended in an interim report “a 24/7 police presence on-site at each quarantine facility.”

The government closed Melbourne Airport to international arrivals in July before commissioning retired judge Jennifer Coate to investigate what went wrong in hotel quarantine, which has been blamed for virtually all COVID-19 community transmission in Victoria.

Coate will deliver her final report and findings, including who made the decisions to hire private security and rebuff the military’s offer of help, by Dec. 21.

Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and senior public servant Chris Eccles both resigned after the inquiry heard evidence of their involvement in the program.

Victoria has accounted for 819 of Australia’s 907 coronavirus deaths.

Cases peaked at 725 across the state in a single day in early August. Victoria on Friday recorded its seventh day without a new COVID-19 diagnosis. Two weeks ago, Melbourne emerged from a 111-day lockdown.

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Australia Inquiry Says Police Should Guard Hotel Quarantine | Health News

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Overseas travelers should be quarantined in hotels guarded by police, an inquiry into an Australian city’s bungled quarantine program reported on Friday.

The Victoria state government’s decision to use private security firms instead of police and the military to enforce quarantine in Melbourne hotels has been widely blamed for lax infection controls that led to Australia’s worst virus resurgence in its second-largest city.

An inquiry into that quarantine program recommended in an interim report “a 24/7 police presence on-site at each quarantine facility.”

The government closed Melbourne Airport to international arrivals in July before commissioning retired judge Jennifer Coate to investigate what went wrong in hotel quarantine, which has been blamed for virtually all COVID-19 community transmission in Victoria.

Coate will deliver her final report and findings, including who made the decisions to hire private security and rebuff the military’s offer of help, by Dec. 21.

Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and senior public servant Chris Eccles both resigned after the inquiry heard evidence of their involvement in the program.

Victoria has accounted for 819 of Australia’s 907 coronavirus deaths.

Cases peaked at 725 across the state in a single day in early August. Victoria on Friday recorded its seventh day without a new COVID-19 diagnosis. Two weeks ago, Melbourne emerged from a 111-day lockdown.

Also Friday, Australia’s highest court upheld a state’s border closure and dismissed billionaire businessman Clive Palmer’s argument that the pandemic measure was unconstitutional.

The seven High Court judges ruled that Western Australia’s state border closure to non-essential travel applied during “a hazard in the nature of a plague or epidemic” complied with the constitution. All Australian states and territories have used border restrictions to curb infections and a court ruling against Western Australia could have impacted their pandemic responses.

The state shut its border to the rest of Australia on April 5 and has maintained the travel restriction despite not recording a case of COVID-19 community transmission since April 11.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Victoria’s Covid-19 hotel quarantine inquiry is delayed by six weeks



a man wearing a suit and tie: MailOnline logo


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Victorians will have to wait until Christmas for answers about how the state’s hotel quarantine program went so horribly wrong.

A report on the catastrophe – which caused the state’s second wave of coronavirus – has been delayed by six weeks.

It was due to be released on November 6 after a four-month inquiry but has been pushed back to December 21, just four days before Christmas.

The delay has been caused by additional evidence submitted since the inquiry’s hearings ended on September 28, but there are now fears important findings will be ignored as the public enjoy the Christmas holidays. 



a man wearing a suit and tie: A report on Victoria's bungled hotel quarantine program has been delayed by six weeks. Pictured: Premier Daniel Andrews


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A report on Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine program has been delayed by six weeks. Pictured: Premier Daniel Andrews

In a statement, the board of inquiry, said: ‘Several documents and affidavits are presently outstanding and may lead to further enquiries.’ 

The inquiry was set up on July 2 after the virus escaped from two quarantine hotels in May and June and rapidly spread around Melbourne, forcing the city back into lockdown.

So far, 819 Victorians have lost their lives and 1,200 jobs per day are disappearing as businesses were forced to close their doors.  

The government has faced criticism for using private security guards, instead of police or ADF troops like in other states, to man the quarantine hotels. 

The inquiry has struggled to work out who made that decision as the program was set up on March 27.

Video: ASIC Chair steps down amid investigation (ABC NEWS)

ASIC Chair steps down amid investigation

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On October 20, at an extra hearing, chief health officer Brett Sutton was asked to provide a new statement to the inquiry after emails emerged that contradicted his earlier testimony.

He previously said he did not know hotel quarantine guards were being used but an email showed he was informed. 

Professor Sutton said had not read the detail of the email at the time. 



a group of people standing around a bus: Victorians will have to wait until Christmas for answers about how the state's hotel quarantine program went so horribly wrong. Pictured: Passengers arrive for quarantine in Melbourne


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Victorians will have to wait until Christmas for answers about how the state’s hotel quarantine program went so horribly wrong. Pictured: Passengers arrive for quarantine in Melbourne

After the hearing, the board requested further statements and evidence from other key players, including Premier Daniel Andrews. 

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A statement explaining the delay read: ‘This unfortunate delay is due to the provision of additional material which occurred after the conclusion of closing submissions on September 28, 2020, as detailed at the extraordinary sitting on October 20, 2020.

‘As a result of this additional material, the board has issued several further notices to produce and requests for affidavits. Several documents and affidavits are presently outstanding and may lead to further inquiries.’

An interim report on Friday next week will include recommendations for how the quarantine program can be safely restarted. 

Mr Andrews said the interim report would allow Melbourne to resume accepting international travellers at the end of November.

‘We should be

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Cost of inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine reaches $10million

Lawyers Tony Neal QC, Rachel Ellyard and Ben Ihle submitted their suggested findings to Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry. They are as follows: 

GOVERNMENT HAD NO PLAN

* Public servants were given just 36 hours to set up the program.

* There was no suggestion those who set up the program worked other than with ‘the best of intentions and to the best of their ability’.

* ‘Bad faith or corruption is not what the evidence shows.’

DHHS WAS IN CONTROL

* The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions played a substantial role but the Department of Health and Human Services was the control agency responsible for the program.

BRETT SUTTON SHOULD’VE BEEN IN CHARGE

* It was wrong to appoint people without public health expertise as the state controllers of the pandemic in February as it ‘influenced the way in which DHHS subsequently understood and acted on its responsibilities’.

* ‘Had the chief health officer or another person with public health expertise been appointed state controller … they would have had direct oversight of the hotel quarantine program and been able to directly influence the model of that program.’

NO ONE PERSON MADE THE DECISION TO USE SECURITY GUARDS

* ‘It can be best understood … as a creeping assumption or default consensus reached in the state control centre after the preference of Victoria Police was known.’

POLICE HAD PREFERENCE FOR GUARDS

* ‘It was not Victoria Police’s decision, but Victoria Police’s clear position that security would be preferable was a substantial contributing factor to the consensus.’

PREMIER SHOULD HAVE BEEN TOLD ABOUT ADF OFFER

* Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles should have told Premier Daniel Andrews his federal counterpart had offered Australian Defence Force support in an April 8 email exchange.

* But the initial decision not to have ADF boots on the ground was ‘reasonable and open – and no criticism should be directed to those who made those operational decisions’.

CONTRACTS WERE INAPPROPRIATE

* ‘There was insufficient supervision of those contracts to ensure compliance with the contractual terms, including as to subcontracting.’

* ‘The contracts with hotels and security companies should not have placed responsibility for PPE and infection control education on those contractors.’

HOTEL QUARANTINE RESPONSIBLE FOR SECOND WAVE

* Ninety per cent of second wave COVID-19 cases are attributable to the Rydges on Swanston outbreak in mid-May. Just under 10 per cent were attributable to the outbreak at the Stamford Hotel in mid-June.

* ‘The hotel quarantine program in Victoria failed to achieve its primary objective. The program that was intended to contain the disease was instead a seeding ground for the spread of COVID-19 into the broader community.’

* ‘The failure by the hotel quarantine program to contain this virus is, as at today’s date, responsible for the deaths of 768 people and the infection of some 18,418 others.’

PEOPLE IN QUARANTINE NOT LOOKED AFTER

* ‘The program did not always operate so as to meet the needs of those who

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