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.
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.
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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.
After the hearing, the board requested further statements and evidence from other key players, including Premier Daniel Andrews.
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 able to hit the target we agreed to at National Cabinet to have flights returning, people reunited with their families for Christmas.
‘I think it is probably toward the end of November rather than the middle, I would think,’ he said.
Quarantine report delayed: Statement from board of inquiry
The Board of Inquiry will deliver an interim report on Friday 6 November 2020, containing recommendations for a proposed quarantine program, based on evidence and information currently available to the Board.
The Board will deliver a final report containing the examination and findings on the decisions and actions of, and communications between, relevant agencies in establishing the initial Hotel Quarantine Program in Victoria, and any further recommendations, by Monday 21 December 2020.
This unfortunate delay is due to the provision of additional material which occurred after the conclusion of closing submissions on 28 September 2020, as detailed at the extraordinary sitting on 20 October 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 enquiries.
Inquiry Chair the Hon. Jennifer Coate AO wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews on 28 October 2020 to advise that the Board would not be able to deliver a final report by 6 November 2020, and to propose this alternative way forward.
The Premier responded on 29 October 2020 advising that he agreed that the Board’s final reporting date should be extended.