Victorian health officials were concerned about ‘cowboy’ security industry, hotel quarantine inquiry hears


Messages between bureaucrats tasked with finding private security firms for Victoria’s hotel quarantine program reveal officials were concerned they were dealing with a “cowboy industry”.

WhatsApp exchanges between Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) staffers discussed names of potential companies, as well as the reputations of different security providers.

The messages have been tendered as evidence at the state’s COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry.

The inquiry is looking into the decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors to find out what went wrong with the hotel quarantine program.

Simon Phemister, the DJPR secretary, said the messages were between an engagement team charged with finding the best security firms to guard people in quarantine.

“We needed firms that were going to work with us, that had a track record of working with government,” he told the inquiry.

But members of the message group expressed concerns over the use of private firms.

“Gotta be careful with a lot of security companies. Heaps of cash work [redacted],” one person wrote.

Another described security as a “cowboy industry”.

Another person in the chat said: “Needs to be reputable. Don’t want [redacted] rogue [redacted] prowling the corridors.”

Private security firms hired 36 hours before hotel quarantine program began

Mr Phemister was first told private security firms were the preferred method of guarding the hotels by senior DJPR official Claire Febey.

Ms Febey attended a meeting at the State Control Centre at 4:30pm on March 27, less than 36 hours before the program was due to start.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp was also at the meeting, along with senior members of Victoria Police and the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

“The critical component from the debrief (from the meeting) was that we had been asked to commission private security for the operation (hotel quarantine),” Mr Phemister said.

He added he did not ask who had made the decision to engage private companies.

“I didn’t ask who, I knew who was attending the meeting and I knew of the calibre of military officials and State Control Centre officials and leadership and the Victoria Police officials so I didn’t pause to ask who made those decisions,” Mr Phemister said.

The top bureaucrat said members of the meeting had the expertise and “authority” to determine how the hotels were guarded.

Mr Phemister said it was not possible the decision to engage private security firms had been made earlier in the day, which had been suggested in other witness evidence at the inquiry.

A key issue being explored by the inquiry is why police or the ADF were not used as security in quarantine hotels.(ABC News: Daniel Fermer)

“My department did not put in any mechanisms to engage private security until after the debrief I received,” he said.

“The day was measured in minutes, not hours … every time a decision was banked and we were commissioned to act, we did so immediately.

Security firm not on Government’s preferred list paid more than others

Mr Phemister said his team spent valuable time searching for private security companies for the program, despite the Government having already listed preferred operators on a public website.

He said the team “could have saved time” had they known the list existed.

Mr Phermister was also asked why Unified Security Group, a company not on the Government’s preferred list, was paid more than the other providers.

The DJPR paid the contractor $49.95 an hour, per guard provided.

This is compared to Wilsons Security that was on the preferred list, and charged $45.21 an hour.

Unified Security Group also charged more on Sundays, added a daily meal allowance to the contract and charged the Government for personal protective equipment (PPE).

Despite being more expensive, the Government used more of Unified’s guards — 1,750 compared to Wilsons Security’s 650.

Mr Phemister said his team did take into account “value for money” as well as other safety factors.

“By the time we accepted those base rates, it came to more qualitative factors,” he told the hearing.

But counsel assisting Rachel Ellyard told the board Unified Security Group guards were not being paid more, despite the company charging higher rates.

‘Unwise’ to speculate on replacement program, Premier says

Premier Daniel Andrews will appear at the inquiry on Friday, after originally being slated to appear on Wednesday.

In a tense exchange with journalists at his press conference on Tuesday, Mr Andrews would not comment on previous evidence provided by senior members of his bureaucracy.

“You can make judgements on the memories of others,” he said. “When I appear before the inquiry I’ll answer questions as honestly, frankly, clearly as possible.”

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Daniel Andrews declines to answer questions about the hotel quarantine inquiry.

He reiterated that unacceptable errors had been made in the program.

“Mistakes have been made in this program, they are not acceptable to me. I don’t think anyone … is in any doubt about my views on that matter. These mistakes are unacceptable.”

Mr Andrews said it would be “unwise” to speculate on what the new quarantine program would look like.

“We need to wait for the thing we don’t have yet, which is the report.”



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Disability Royal Commission hears teenager was left with severe disability after being given psychotropic medication


Oliver McGowan was a school prefect, played representative football and athletics and was training to become a Paralympian.

But the Royal Commission into Disability today heard how that all changed.

His mother today gave evidence about how her teenaged son, who lived with autism, focal partial epilepsy and an intellectual disability, was told by a neurologist he had full life expectancy and would eventually live independently.

But Oliver’s quality of life drastically deteriorated after he was prescribed a drug he and his parents begged doctors not to give him.

After suffering seizures in December 2015, today’s hearing was told Oliver was given psychotropic drug Olanzapine in a UK hospital, despite not having been diagnosed with psychosis or a mental illness.

Psychotropic medication refers to any drug capable of affecting the mind, emotions, or behaviour, including anti-psychotics, anti-depressants and mood stabilisers.

His mother, Paula McGowan, who now lives in Newcastle, gave evidence at the royal commission in Sydney today as it examined the use of psychotropic medication on people with disabilities.

Oliver McGowen with his parents Tom and Paula.(Supplied)

The extent of reliance on such medication and its effects on the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities will be under scrutiny throughout the hearing.

Ms McGowan told the commission the effect of the drugs on Oliver was catastrophic.

“We were told by the doctors that Oliver’s brain was so badly swollen it was bulging out the base of his skull … Oliver was now profoundly disabled,” she said.

“That beautiful smile that we saw earlier, his sense of humour … were gone forever.

A man in hospital
Oliver McGowan was given psychotropic medication after suffering seizures.(Supplied)

“The doctors told us that Oliver had no chance of recovery or return.

“Cruelly, Oliver was reassured that this would not happen, and his voice was not heard and it cost him his life.”

In November 2016, at the age of 18, Oliver died in Bristol, England, due to a combination of pneumonia and hypoxic brain injury.

Ms McGowan told the commission she hoped sharing Oliver’s story could lead to the Australian Government implementing standardised mandatory training for healthcare workers.

“It’s not fair that professionals, clinicians, are not given the education and skills required to help them and enable patients with intellectual disability and autism to have better healthcare outcomes,” Ms McGowan said.

The commission heard there were 177,000 reports of unauthorised use of chemical restraints on NDIS participants in 2019-2020.

This does not mean the use of the drug was illegal, but that it was administered without prior approval from the patient in an emergency.

Oliver’s death was covered by the UK media and sparked a review by the National Health Service.

Ms McGowan told the commission she had made ground through a campaign overseas, with the UK Government last year committing to introducing mandatory training in learning disability and autism for healthcare workers.

She is pushing for a similar program to be adopted in Australia.

“The key lessons that could be applied in Australia are awareness, training and communication,” she said.

“It’s vital that the patient is kept at the heart of all decision-making,”

The hearing continues.



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Juukan Gorge inquiry hears of doubts over WA Government’s approval of Rio Tinto application


Doubts have been raised about the legality of the Western Australian Government’s 2013 approval for the destruction of Juukan Gorge.

A federal inquiry investigating Rio Tinto’s destruction of ancient Pilbara rock shelters has been told the December 2013 meeting of the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee may have been invalid because it did not have a legal quorum.

The committee recommended the then minister for Aboriginal Affairs approve Rio Tinto’s application to destroy, damage or alter the sites under Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act seven years before the blasting activity happened in May this year.

“There is a high likelihood that that recommendation to the minister was invalid,” Greens MP Robin Chapple told the hearing.

“The reason for that is the act specifies that only two members of that committee can be ex-officio when it comes to a quorum of five.”

The committee had three ex-officio members, as well as a committee member and a chairperson.

Greens MP Robin Chapple has investigated the meeting which approved Rio Tinto’s destruction of heritage sites at Juukan Gorge, and says it may be invalid.

Mr Chapple said Traditional Owners the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation should be compensated by the State Government if it is proven the approval process was invalid.

The revelation came on the fourth day of public hearings into the mining company’s destruction of the shelters, and amid growing evidence and concern over complicated claim-wide agreements traditional owners signed with mining companies.

Ahead of the hearing, Mr Chapple threw his support behind calls for a royal commission into the Juukan Gorge destruction, saying it could compel the release of these wide-ranging secret agreements.

“A royal commission can subpoena them. The current committee can ask for them [but] they may or may not get them.”

The WA Government disputed Mr Chapple’s evidence, saying the ACMC had a quorum at the meeting. 

“Section 32(1) of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 states: The quorum to constitute a meeting of the Committee shall be such as the Committee may from time to time determine but shall not be less than five persons of whom two shall be ex officio members,” the government said in a statement.

“While not stipulated in the Act, this is taken to mean a minimum of two ex-officio members.”

Yinhawangka concern over sites

A second group of Pilbara traditional owners has raised concerns about the impact of Rio Tinto’s mining activities on its ancient heritage.

Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation archaeologist Anna Fagan said there were “big concerns” over Rio Tinto plans to destroy 124 of 327 heritage sites with its Western Range Expansion project in the Hammersley Range.

Dr Fagan said there had only been limited archaeological research, but some rock shelters dated back 26,000 years and contained a rich deposit of artefacts with the potential to be much older.

Until now, protection of sites depended on them being within a national park, or on Rio Tinto’s “goodwill”, Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation’s chief executive officer Grant Bussell said.

“We rely on Rio’s goodwill,” Mr Bussell said.

“I certainly believe that because of your inquiry, I think, and the failures that happened in the PKKP country, they are more sensitive now and a little more careful about the protection of sites.

Mr Bussell raised concerns about the claim-wide agreements, which prevent traditional owners from objecting to mining activity or even speaking publicly about the agreements, although BHP last week said it would remove its gag clauses.

He said he received a letter from Rio Tinto on Friday giving him permission to talk about the agreement at today’s inquiry.

Mr Bussell said there was a power imbalance in the negotiations over the 300-page 2013 claim-wide participation agreement, and he called for new laws “that require informed consent before agreements like ours are entered into”.

A composite image showing Juukan Gorge in 2013 on the left, and then in 2020 on the right after land was cleared of vegetation.
Juukan Gorge in 2013, left, and then in 2020 after it was cleared but before Rio Tinto blasted and destroyed two rock shelters.(Supplied: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation, composite ABC News)

Rio Tinto said a feasibility study was underway into the Western Range project, which included extensive consultation and engagement with traditional owners, the Yinhawangka People.

“The Western Range project area currently has 370 known heritage sites and Rio Tinto has so far taken steps to protect more than 250 of these,” the company said in a statement.

“The remaining sites continue to be reviewed and assessed, with further s16 excavations to be conducted with the Yinhawangka People.”

Rio Tinto also said it had committed to modernising its participation agreement “including in relation to consent, to ensure the Yinhawangka People can raise concerns or objections relating to the impacts of our operations on their country”.

Juukan ‘may happen again’

Mr Bussell also expressed concern that another incident like the Juukan Gorge destruction may happen again, despite efforts by the WA Government to reform its Aboriginal heritage laws.

“I don’t see a single thing that would stop Juukan happening again,” he said.

“This is Western Australia. The mining industry is very powerful.

Earlier, geologist Cedric Davies raised concerns about the undue influence of mining companies on government decisions.

He told the inquiry he had experienced very different responses from government depending on whether he was working for an Aboriginal native title group or for the mining industry.

Mr Davies also said he was surprised that when he applied for a job at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there was an employee of a mining company on the panel.

“In WA there’s this, I think it’s in the blood — mining good, not mining bad, and it infuses everything,” Mr Davies said.



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Victorian coronavirus hotel quarantine inquiry hears Premier’s department boss unsure if he passed on ADF offer


The head of Victoria’s premier’s department says he is “not aware” whether he passed on a Commonwealth offer in early April of ADF support for the state’s flawed hotel quarantine program.

An inquiry into the botched scheme has heard the secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles, contacted his federal counterpart Phillip Gaetjens about financial support for security.

In an email on April 8, Mr Gaetjens replied the Commonwealth could potentially provide ADF support for the program.

“The only deal with NSW was in-kind provision of ADF personnel,” Mr Gaetjens wrote.

“I am sure the Commonwealth would be willing to assist Victoria in a similar way if you wanted to reconsider your operating model.”

The Victorian Government was paying private security guards to oversee returned travellers.

Mr Eccles said he did not know whether he passed on Mr Gaetjens’ reply to those running hotel quarantine.

“My records don’t reveal that I forwarded the email,” he said.

“I’m not aware that I did or didn’t.”

Counsel assisting the COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry Rachel Ellyard suggested it would be “odd” if Mr Eccles had not passed on the information.

“I don’t want to be in a position of having to describe my, whatever I did as being odd or not at the moment,” Mr Eccles replied.

“I simply don’t know.”

Travellers quarantining at The Rydges sparked a large part of the state’s second wave of coronavirus.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

Last week, the inquiry heard Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton believed he should have been given the senior management role of state controller, so he could oversee how health directives he was legally responsible for were being rolled out.

Professor Sutton and Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen told the inquiry they were concerned there had not been enough oversight of the hotel quarantine program by people with backgrounds in health.



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Former SA magistrate Bob Harrap at ‘inevitable risk’ if sent to prison, court hears



A former magistrate would be placed at “inevitable risk” if he is sent to prison for deception offences, the South Australian District Court has been told.

Bob Harrap is one of four people who’ve pleaded guilty, following an investigation by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

Mr Harrap and lawyer Catherine Moyse admitted to conspiring to abuse public office over a court matter, while Mr Harrap also admitted to deceiving the courts in a bid to avoid demerit points over traffic fines.

In submissions on sentencing, defence lawyer David Edwardson QC said he worried for Mr Harrap’s safety.

“There is no doubt as a longstanding magistrate, a custodial sentence would place my client at high risk, inevitable risk, and there is always the prospect of him being systematically targeted by prisoners,” defence lawyer David Edwardson QC said.

Mr Edwardson said his client was deeply remorseful for his conduct, which had involved an attempt to keep his licence while he travelled vast distances to suburban and regional courthouses, as well as the care of a daughter with a disability.

“He’s been punished enormously by the mere fact of admitting to that conduct, and he’s lost his job.”

Harrap not entitled to ‘get out of jail free card’: prosecutor

Prosecutor Peter Longson rejected most of the defence arguments, even unsuccessfully calling for the judge to revoke Mr Harrap’s bail immediately.

“As tragic as the circumstances are with his daughter, they are not unique — many people who come before the courts have circumstances of that kind who are going to be impacted by the imposition of a penalty.”

A lawyer for Ms Moyse pleaded that no conviction be recorded for her wrongdoing, saying she still enjoyed the support and confidence of a vast section of the legal profession.

Court clerk Melanie Freeman and police prosecutor Abigail Foulkes also pleaded guilty for their roles in the issue.

All four are expected to be sentenced in November.



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Alex Salmond inquiry hears ‘bullying’ behaviour claim


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Alex Salmond “could display bullying or intimidatory behaviour”, the former first minister’s top civil servant has told MSPs.

Sir Peter Housden said issues with the behaviour of minsters “punctuated” his time as permanent secretary.

However, he refused to confirm whether he had spoken to Nicola Sturgeon, then Mr Salmond’s deputy, about this.

Sir Peter said he never witnessed any bullying, and that there had been “no suggestions of sexual misconduct”.

He was permanent secretary between 2010 and 2015, and said no formal complaints were made against ministers during this period, with issues generally being dealt with “informally”.

MSPs are holding an inquiry into the Scottish government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

The government had to pay the former first minister more than £500,000 in legal costs after accepting that its investigation was unlawful and “tainted with apparent bias”.

Part of the inquiry is looking at how the government’s complaints handling process was drawn up, with Sir Peter’s successor Leslie Evans insisting it was not designed “to get” Mr Salmond.

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Sir Peter Housden said he would try to find ways to “smooth things along”

Civil service trade unions previously said 30 staff had come to them with concerns – although not formal complaints – about bullying behaviour within the Scottish government, across a number of administrations.

Sir Peter said that while “no formal complaints came forward against any elected politician” while he was in office, he “knew the former first minister [Mr Salmond] could display bullying or intimidatory behaviour”.

He said that “for much of the time the office ran really well, with great energy and motivation on both sides”.

But he said life was “punctuated by these kind of behaviours that were a problem”.

‘Important journey’

Sir Peter said that when he was in post there was a “presumption” that issues would be handled informally where a formal complaint had not been made and there was no evidence of “egregious behaviour”.

He said he would look to find ways to “ameliorate” issues and “smooth things along”.

But while he said it would be “appropriate to speak with a senior member of the administration” about concerns, the “duty of confidentiality” prevented him from confirming or denying whether he had ever raised any with Ms Sturgeon.

Sir Peter said civil servants were “entitled to expect ministers to be able to control their behaviour”.

He said: “I think what has happened particularly since 2017 has taken us on a very important journey into an environment where particularly women feel better supported in the everyday course of their work, and where necessary know that there are formal procedures that they have confidence in and have some kind of guarantee of integrity.

“At the end of the day it will be a decision for the individual employee to make – and it’s a big one. It’s a very significant thing to do, but the important thing is you’re creating the conditions where people can take those decisions soundly.”

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Former HR director Barbara Allison said Mr Salmond “demanded high standards” of staff

Later in the session, former HR director Barbara Allison told MSPs that she was “aware of issues that had been raised through the trade unions”, although not any specific complaints.

She said: “I was aware Mr Salmond could be demanding and difficult to work for, he demanded high standards and if he didn’t get that he would express his displeasure.

“I would like to say for fairness that people also expressed that they enjoyed working for him, he was visionary, dynamic, it was a bit of a rollercoaster. There were lots of shades of grey.

“There were rumours of him being demanding and difficult but people had different experiences of working with him.”

‘Intense pressure’

During his criminal trial in March – which saw him acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault – Mr Salmond said that to his “observation and experience” people were “keen to work in the private office”.

He said staff were “subject to intense political pressure” but that people “knitted together out of that”.

He added that it was “much more informal than any other part of government for the civil service”.

The former first minister is expected to give evidence to the committee himself later in the year.

His lawyers have already written to the group offering to go to court to force the release of Scottish government documents.



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Woman punched in Parramatta cafe while pregnant claims wearing of hijab provoked attack, court hears


A pregnant woman who was attacked by a stranger in a Western Sydney cafe last year has told a court she was targeted because she was wearing a hijab.

Security camera footage of the assault shows 44-year-old Stipe “Stephen” Lozina walk into the Parramatta cafe and speak to Rana Elasmar briefly.

He is then seen leaping across the table and punching Ms Elasmar several times to the head and body with both fists, knocking her to the ground.

Mr Lozina then stomped on the pregnant woman before bystanders dragged him off.

In court, the 32-year-old mother and former school teacher tearfully spoke of the fear she had felt for her unborn child.

“I made a conscious decision to turn my abdomen away from his punches, I wanted to protect my baby,” she said.

She said the next few days before her child was born were a rollercoaster because she could not feel the baby moving.

The court heard Mr Lozina had asked Ms Elasmar for cash and when she refused shouted: “Muslim’s wrecked my mum”, before launching the attack.

In sentencing submissions, the prosecution argued the attack was inspired by Islamophobia and a belief that someone of the same religion as Ms Elasmar had wronged Mr Lozina’s mother.

Assault victim Rana Elasmar, (right) arrives at the Parramatta District Court.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Ms Elasmar said not only was she physically injured but the psychological impacts felt by herself and her young children would be long lasting.

“How do I explain to my daughter why this man hit me?” she said.

Mr Lozina appeared in the proceedings from custody via video link after insisting on representing himself throughout, declining to use Legal Aid.

District Court Judge Stephen Handley said if he had the power to compel offenders to make use of legal representation he would have exercised it with Mr Lozina.

Judge Handley will deliver his sentence next month and said he will consider mental illness, the seriousness of the offence, the necessity of deterrence and the harm caused to the victim.

“I will also have to consider, frankly, the harm that is done to a tolerant and multicultural country like ours if this type of conduct goes unpunished or inadequately punished,” he said.

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Rana Elasmar was 38 weeks pregnant at the time of the attack.



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Victoria’s coronavirus hotel quarantine inquiry hears ADF support was offered



Recordings of key meetings on the bungled hotel quarantine scheme have revealed Victoria’s emergency management boss did not believe Australian Defence Force troops were needed to support the program.

The recordings were played at the Victorian inquiry into the hotel quarantine program and provide key details of meetings on March 27 and 28, convened by Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) Commissioner Andrew Crisp and other top government officials.

In the meeting, Commissioner Crisp said private security would be the state’s first line of defence across a number of quarantine hotels.

“Yes, there’s some interesting media reporting around the role of the ADF — we greatly value the role of the ADF,” he told the conference call.

“But at this stage … at this particular point in time, we certainly don’t see the need for boots on the ground for this particular operation.”

In an earlier meeting, Mr Crisp told the top bureaucrats involved in the coordination of the ill-fated program that “at this stage we can manage this, the ADF can do exactly what they’re doing … and that’s helping us with logistics”.

He also mentioned there would be no need for “boots on the ground”.

Under questioning at the inquiry today from counsel assisting Rachel Ellyard, Commissioner Crisp said planning and discussions had led him to believe a model of private security with police support on request would be the most effective.

“Based on the planning we had done … we didn’t see a need [for ADF support] at that time,” he said.

Commissioner Crisp also conceded that changes to the public service structure could be made as a result of the lessons learnt from the quarantine program.

“What we’ve seen through this particular emergency is what a new role might actually look like, if you were going to write a job and task analysis in relation for people to be working in hotel quarantine — it’d probably look different to anything we’ve got at the moment,” he said.

Victoria was offered ADF support in early days of hotel quarantine program, inquiry told

The Prime Minister wrote to the Victorian Premier three times in July, offering further Australian Defence Force personnel for the state’s pandemic response, according to new evidence presented to the inquiry.

The federal solicitor-general’s “voluntary” evidence laid out over 140 pages of key correspondence between the Commonwealth, the Victorian Government and key bureaucrats over the offer of ADF troops.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has continually denied there was an explicit offer of ADF support from the Commonwealth to help run the state’s hotel quarantine program.

In August, the Premier told a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing that claims ADF personnel were offered was wrong.

“[It’s] fundamentally incorrect to assert that there were hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow, someone said no,” he said.

But in the evidence provided to the inquiry, the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, sent an email to the secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Mr Chris Eccles AO, on April 8 offering Commonwealth support.

“On the question of assistance with security, I am advised the only deal with NSW was in-kind provision of ADF personnel,” Mr Gaetjens wrote.

On the same day, Mr Eccles responded: “Thanks Phil.”

It was not until June 24 that the top Victorian public servant wrote to his federal counterpart that Victoria would need ADF support.

“Phil as per my recent text, the Premier and Prime Minister discussed last night the support that might be provided by the ADF in relation to the current outbreaks in Victoria,” he wrote.

The solicitor-general’s evidence then states: “When the COVID-19 case numbers began to escalate in Victoria by the end of June 2020, the Prime Minister wrote to Premier Andrews on three separate occasions (July 4, 2020, July 6, 2020 and July 11, 2020) reaffirming the Commonwealth’s preparedness to continue the provision of ADF support to Victoria as needed.”

The solicitor-general writes that the correspondence from the Prime Minister reaffirms claims from the Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, that support had been offered throughout the Victorian pandemic response.

A press release from Senator Reynolds issued on March 29 was also tendered to the inquiry.

It stated: “The ADF will provide logistics support for the state and territory police as they enforce mandatory quarantine and isolation measures.”

Victoria was ‘satisfied’ with hotel quarantine program

Evidence before the inquiry also referenced a situation report (sitrep) written on March 31, from the taskforce involved in the national COVID-19 response, which states that Victoria had given no indication of seeking support from federal agencies.

“In Victoria we are seeing minimal requests for ADF support … the State Emergency Management Commissioner (EMC) indicates that he is satisfied that the control arrangements implemented by Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).”

Later, on April 17, another Defence sitrep stated:

“The State of Victoria’s ability to accept returning Australians from overseas is nearing planned capacity of ~4000 people.

“Despite this there are presently no indicators that ADF assistance will be requested in the near term. I will keep a close watch on this space.”

The hotel quarantine program in Victoria was stopped on June 29, soon after troops were called in to help.



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Hotel guests about to check out had coronavirus, Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry hears


Two Melbourne hotel quarantine guests were escorted to the lobby by security guards and almost released before hotel staff members realised the guests had coronavirus.

Guards also went on a shopping trip to buy toys for children who were staying in hotel quarantine, the inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program has heard.

The coronavirus-positive guests were almost released from the Rydges on Swanston hotel after their names were included on a list of people who should be checked-out that day.

The spreadsheet was distributed to security guards by staff members from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR), the inquiry heard.

When the couple made it to the lobby, the authorised officer — a departmental staffer in charge of the hotel — realised they shouldn’t be allowed to go as they were coronavirus-positive.

“That placed a big risk because at that point in the hotel, the ground floor was dedicated as a green [non-COVID-19] zone,” Mo Nagi, Victorian Operations Manager with Unified Security told the hearing.

The two guards then went into isolation.

Unified Security provided guards to Rydges on Swanston, which was known as a “red” hotel where confirmed coronavirus-positive cases would be sent.

Six guards from the hotel, who were direct employees of sub-contractor SSG (Sterling Services Group), tested positive to coronavirus in May and the quarantine breach went on to cause 90 per cent of Victoria’s second wave of cases.

Toy-buying trip to give ‘respite’ to government staffers

The inquiry also heard Unified Security guards went on a shopping trip to buy toys for children who were being held in the hotels at the request of staff from DJPR, spending $5,000 of taxpayer money.

The guards also delivered Easter eggs and Mother’s Day gifts to hotel guests.

Nigel Coppick, an executive at Unified Security, said although it was outside the company’s remit, he felt DJPR staff needed support.

“… their numbers were locked in to certain locations and I guess they may have not had the numbers they required,” Mr Coppick said.

“We thought it prudent to support them with some initiatives.”

Nigel Coppick said guards from his firm went toy shopping at the request of DJPR.(Supplied: COVID-19 Hotel Inquiry)

Cargo of PPE from Sydney provided by security firm

Evidence was given that DPJR pressured security companies to provide their own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on-site and one company ended up providing PPE to departmental staff and police.

Mr Coppick told the inquiry the company’s CEO drove from Sydney with a cargo of PPE the night before the hotel program was starting.

He said because there was a lack of PPE at the hotel they were staffing, they offered some of the equipment to Victoria Police, departmental staff and hotel guests.

“That lasted for quite some time,” he said.

“Until everyone caught up with PPE requirements, we were supporting multiple departments.”

The DPJR paid the companies for the PPE.

Unified Security provided guards to 13 hotels in the government program and used both employees and subcontractors to provide more than 1,700 security guards.

The firm was responsible for several more hotels than the other two security providers involved in the program, Wilson Security and MSS Security.

“… it must have been by the time of the third or fourth hotel on, [you were] relying almost entirely on subcontracting arrangements,” Counsel Assisting the Inquiry Rachael Ellyard said.

“Was there ever any discussion about the risk of the company overextending itself and taking on hotels that it wasn’t going to be able to appropriately manage?” she asked.

Mr Coppick said there was not.

“We were comfortable with our abilities and we delivered,” Mr Coppick said.

Mr Coppick denied suggestions from Ms Ellyard that the Unified Security chose to award work to SSG because it was cheaper than other sub-contractors.

Meanwhile, the security company that provided guards at the Stamford Plaza hotel said it wasn’t aware there were coronavirus-positive guests staying there until one of its guards contracted the virus.

General manager of MSS Security Jamie Adams told the inquiry that staff from the DJPR had told him no coronavirus-positive cases would be staying at the hotel.

Coronavirus originating at the Stamford Plaza Hotel is responsible for about 10 per cent of Victoria’s second wave.

Mr Adams said if the company had known there were positive cases at the hotel, it may have done things differently.

“I think we certainly would have wanted to engage with DJPR about exactly how those risks would have been mitigated.”

“We would have taken measures to limit the amount of contact, even indirect contact [guards were having]. By that I mean staff on COVID-positive floors,” he said.

Jamie Adams.
MSS Security’s general manager Jamie Adams said he was told no coronavirus-positive cases would be staying at the Stamford Plaza hotel.(Supplied: COVID-19 Hotel Inquiry)

The inquiry also heard details about another incident at Crown Metropol, where police were called after a female guest started throwing fruit and a chair at guards and threatened to injure a nurse.

She later escaped from her room but was detained by a Unified Security guard.

“In a nutshell, the guest came out and started attacking the nurse … I heard screams, and then heard my name ‘Mo’ yelling and I came out and saw the guest chasing the nurse down the hall,” Mo Nagi from Unified Security recounted.

“I then grabbed the guest, restrained her… then police jumped on top of me.”

The inquiry heard the guest was admitted to the Alfred Hospital but was released and back into her room six hours later.



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Aged care royal commission hears number of quality checks on aged homecare providers has declined



Quality checks on aged homecare providers have declined, despite the watchdogs responsible being given at least $6.5 million to hire more assessors, a royal commission has heard.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care was shown documents that revealed 181 quality reviews of aged homecare providers were conducted from April to June 2019, but that number fell to 24 in July to September this year.

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray QC told the inquiry the data showed “a remarkable reduction in the number of quality reviews, and assessment contacts in home services”.

Responsibility for quality in aged care was transferred from the Federal Department of Health to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) on January 1 this year.

The inquiry heard money from three sources was provided to increase compliance with aged homecare standards.

This included allocations of $2.4 million to hire more assessors in the 2019-20 financial year, and $4.1 million to improve monitoring of homecare services.

In its written response to the royal commission, the ACQSC said it was using the money to increase its homecare service compliance activity — but the change was progressing “more slowly than planned”.

Mr Gray asked ACQSC head Janet Anderson: “Isn’t it more the case that any program for increasing the level of compliance activity … hasn’t progressed more slowly, it’s actually gone backwards?”

“There is no doubt that we have put additional effort into the work being undertaken … in terms of a strengthened approach to understanding risk across the sector and undertaking targeted approaches to individual providers where we are concerned about the profile,” she replied.

Mr Gray pressed on: “Well, I’m not sure if I follow … hasn’t compliance activity declined since the preceding financial year?”

“I think the point you are making is valid … regulatory activity in so far as you would include quality reviews and assessment contacts, as reported, have declined,” Ms Anderson replied.

Earlier this week the inquiry heard calls for a major shift in how Australians care for the elderly.

Mr Gray said the overwhelming majority of elderly people would prefer to age in their own homes.

But by the time they turn 80, one in five will be living in residential aged care.

The commission was told that Australia has one of the highest percentages of elderly people living in institutional care of any developed country.



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