Business executive granted coronavirus essential traveller status ahead of Tasmanian hotel opening


The head of a consultancy firm once tasked with researching the viability of a new Hobart hotel was flown into Tasmania as an essential worker ahead of the hotel’s opening.

Right to Information (RTI) documents obtained by the Tasmanian Greens show that Tourism and Hospitality Services Australasia (THSA) managing director Rodger Powell contacted Tasmanian Hospitality Association head Steve Old in late June to express his frustration that his essential traveller application was yet to be processed.

Mr Powell’s email to Mr Old on June 24th said he had applied to enter Tasmania as an essential traveller but had been told “applications take three to six days (or longer) to be processed”.

“If there is anything … you can think of that I can to do get this processed I am happy to do it or if there is anyone you can call it would be very helpful,” the email said.

After receiving Mr Powell’s email, Mr Old forwarded the correspondence to Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) secretary Tim Baker, who promised to “look into it”.

The application was subsequently approved.

Peter Gutwein (left), with Kalis Group CEO Alexia Kalis and Tasmanian Hospitality Association’s Steve Old at the opening party.(Crowne Plaza/Rosie Hastie)

Executive attended Hobart hotel opening

THSA lists Kalis Group and Crowne Plaza as clients.

A Crowne Plaza hotel — owned by Kalis Group — opened in Hobart’s CBD on July 1 with Mr Powell among attendees at its launch.

A file note written by Mr Baker attached to the RTI documents said while he had forwarded Mr Powell’s applications to the manager responsible for essential travellers, “the email was forwarded blank with no instruction”.

He said he spoke with Mr Old again only to confirm the application had been approved, and that the application had not been discussed with State Controller Darren Hine or any Government MPs.

Greens question granting of travel exemption

Tourism and Hospitality Services Australasia Managing Director Rodger Powell
Tourism and Hospitality Services Australasia head Rodger Powell was granted essential traveller status.(LinkedIn)

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said she was puzzled as to why Mr Powell had been deemed an essential traveller.

“Tasmanians who have sacrificed so much over the past five months are entitled to an explanation,” Ms O’Connor said.

“Tim Baker is a former chief of staff to former Liberal premier, Will Hodgman, and Steve Old’s strong ties to the Liberals are well known.”

According to the Tasmanian Government’s coronavirus website, essential travellers are people who fit within categories such as:

  • National and state security
  • Health services
  • Transport, freight and logistics
  • Specialist skills “critical to maintaining key industries or businesses”

At the opening of the Crowne Plaza hotel early last month, Mr Old credited his “contact book” with helping ensure the 235-room development could be finished during the pandemic.

At the time, he said labourers were flown in from mainland Australia to finish construction.

Almost 8,800 applications for essential traveller status were submitted to Tasmanian bureaucrats between March and the middle of July — the bulk of them related to “specialist skills”.

Exemption for event ‘would not receive approval’: SCC

In a statement, the State Control Centre (SCC) said for an applicant to be declared an essential traveller, they had to state that the work they were required to perform was essential to business function.

It said all applications were processed by DPIPWE and scrutinised twice before being assessed by the State Controller.

The SCC also stated that any essential traveller application based on attending a celebratory event “has not and would not receive approval”.

The SCC said “it would be inappropriate to provide details on individual applications”.

THSA said Mr Powell had been the “lead independent hotel consultant and adviser on the … [Crowne Plaza Hobart] since 2014”.

“Rodger Powell was required to attend the Crowne Plaza Hobart in person prior to the hotel opening to conduct a range of final physical site inspections and to confirm that all parties had met the requirements of the various agreements and contracts,” a statement read.

The statement said THSA had followed all procedures required by DPIPWE and that Mr Powell had flown into Hobart on June 29, completed the works on June 29 and 30 before attending the hotel opening on July 1.

The THSA said the hotel opening had employed 104 Tasmanians.

The ABC has also contacted the DPIPWE for comment.



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Gourmet Traveller Wine tries to trade out of administration


Cameron Gray and Anthony Elkerton of DW Advisory were appointed administrators in December, with more than $840,000 owed to the Tax Office, about $36,000 to the printing company Blue Star Web and a slew of smaller creditors including wine names such as Peter Bourne, Nick Stock, Jeremy Oliver and former Gourmet Traveller editor Andy Harris.

Creditors accepted a deed of arrangement to be paid 10c in the dollar of their original debt in February and then in May agreed to extend the terms because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Africola head chef and co-owner Duncan Welgemoed is owed just under $5000 for hosting a GT Wine dinner in October last year after the organisers were unable to settle the bill on the night. He said Mr Sarris was apologetic and promised payment within a few days but then ceased contact, while the magazine went on to host dinners at other restaurants.

“He stiffed me out of a bill and continued to rort restaurants – and restaurants are some of the most fragile businesses in Australia – and he was happy to do it without giving a f**k basically,” Mr Welmegoed said. “That’s money from our kids’ mouths.”

Mr Sarris said he could not comment as he was not sure which restaurants had not been paid. “As far as I’m concerned we’re running events on a regular basis over a number of years,” he said.

Many contributors still have an ongoing relationship with the magazine and would not talk on the record, with one pointing out that had the magazine stayed with its former owners, Bauer Media, it probably would not have survived the German publisher’s recent cull of titles.

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Judy Sarris has been editor of GT Wine since 2003 when it was owned by ACP and then continued when Bauer Media bought ACP from Nine (now publisher of this masthead) in 2012. Bauer sold GT Wine in 2015 and the magazine is owned 20 per cent directly by Judy Sarris and 80 per cent by the Sarrises jointly through a holding company, Spud Media Investments.

The Sun-Herald has been told freelance writers and photographers have withheld work to force invoices to be prioritised and Sydney restaurants have threatened to cancel events because deposits had not been paid. Judy Sarris is said to tell contributors Stan handles the business side and she knows nothing about it. It is understood staff and contributors are mostly being paid at the moment but many will no longer work for the title having been burned once too often.

Judy Sarris said she agreed the ideal word count and approximate fee when she commissioned contributors and they would usually expect to be paid for previous work before taking on new assignments.

“While I endeavour to be as helpful as possible, I do not have access to the banking and do not make payments, so I do have to refer writers to accounts department, which is off-site, or to Stan,” she said.

Mr Sarris said the company fell into difficulties because advertisers were not paying on time, affecting cash flow. He said the business was healthier after restructuring, including terminating the lease on its office space in Surry Hills and moving into the area downstairs at a time when most magazine staff are working from home.

The downstairs space was originally earmarked for a wine bar. Mr Sarris said he had been paying rent for it since 2018 and used it sporadically for events but he was glad he did not open the wine bar given what happened with the coronavirus. He instead plans to open a bottle shop.

He rejected the suggestion it was extravagant to pay for empty space for so long. “That’s not extravagance, you’re building businesses, you have concepts and ideas, and you go out and develop them, but sometimes it doesn’t go to plan.”

Mr Sarris said the company had also identified new revenue streams, opening an online wine shop, and had shifted its events to an online format. The GT Wine dinners that left restaurants like Africola in the lurch have been unable to operate during the pandemic, but the magazine in June hosted a virtual wine tasting of pinot noir with actor Sam Neill, the owner of Two Paddocks winery in New Zealand.

Yet the company faces a looming deadline, with the first instalment to creditors due within three months of the automatic repeal of the government’s coronavirus economic response package, currently due in September.

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The company will also be affected by the phase-out of JobKeeper, with payments set to reduce in late September and again from the end of December. Mr Sarris confirmed staff were on JobKeeper but said his forecasting indicated the business would continue to trade after the program ended.

Around May GT Wine Magazine also lost the lucrative contract to publish Vintage Cellars magazine to News Corp-owned Medium Rare Content Agency. Some sources say this would be the “nail in the coffin” for the business but Mr Sarris said the company had developed other revenue streams.

In the 1990s Mr Sarris and Mr Adler, the former FAI Insurances chief who later served jail time for his conduct as a director of HIH, founded a company called Eaternity with plans to open a string of chic restaurants and bars across Sydney.

The pair opened top Sydney restaurant Banc in 1997, an establishment that was never far out of the gossip columns and provided the training ground for many successful chefs, such as Justin North, Matthew Kemp and Darrell Felstead. In 1999 the pair opened GPO, an ambitious food hall, restaurant and bar operation in Martin Place.

But Eaternity collapsed in 2002 owing $4.5 million, after Mr Sarris had earlier bought out Mr Adler. Mr Sarris lost control of GPO to Peter Petroulas around this time but continued running Banc and Wine Banc through a new company, 53 Martin Place.

A year later Mr Sarris also placed Banc into voluntary administration, though the wine bar continued to operate.

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Far North Queensland hotel quarantine a ‘frat house’ as traveller questions why he wasn’t tested for COVID-19



An angry traveller has described his mandatory quarantine stay in regional Queensland as worse than being locked up in a university ‘frat house’ as guests ran rampant through the hotel’s hallways.

Australian citizen Harvey Goodwin returned from Papua New Guinea in late June before bunkering down for 14 days at a hotel in the Cairns CBD.

During that time, Mr Goodwin said lewd acts, loud music and ‘balcony hopping’ were commonplace despite formal warnings being issued by hotel management and police.

“There are some people who probably haven’t handled it too well,” the overseas-based security expert said.

“The hotel then put out a letter saying, ‘You’re only allowed one bottle (of alcohol), we have security cameras in place’ and so on.

“The people that were looking after us said, ‘We’ve had people jumping from balconies, we’ve had people piddling on the bloody people down the streets (below), partying and causing disruptions.’

The claims come hot on the heels of Melbourne being thrust into its second lockdown following quarantine breaches at hotels in the city earlier this month.

Guests behaving badly

In other instances, Mr Goodwin said he witnessed:

  • Guests throwing cigarette butts onto the pavement below their rooms
  • Tossing plastic food containers out their windows
  • Verbally abusing hotel staff

Following a spate of incidents, authorities resorted to issuing guests with a sternly-worded letter urging occupants to stop ‘engaging in antisocial behaviour.’

But Mr Goodwin said the threats were to no avail.

“It was just a slap-happy way of dealing with human beings if you ask me,” he said.

Quarantine but no tests

During his two-week stay, Mr Goodwin said he never received a COVID-19 test, nor was he tested upon arrival at the Cairns Airport.

“They issued me with a document on the Queensland Government letterhead … with my name, hotel, room number and discharge date,” he said

“I wanted a document to say I was clear of the virus and that’s all they gave me.

“I just don’t understand how someone can be incarcerated for 14 days — no-one knows if you had it before you went in and no-one knows if you have it when you come out.”

In a statement, Queensland Health said travellers in hotel quarantine were not actively being tested prior to July 4.

It is understood the policy was changed following a recommendation from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) made to National Cabinet in June.

“All people entering quarantine in government-arranged accommodation in Cairns are tested before the end of their 14-day quarantine,” a spokesperson said.

“People in quarantine who return a negative result from a COVID-19 test still need to remain in quarantine until the end of the 14-day period.

But Mr Goodwin maintained his test never occurred.

“Nothing was done so they can’t guarantee anything, and that has been my point of contention all along,” he said.

At the time of publication, Queensland had two active cases of COVID-19.



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‘Possible’ new coronavirus case identified in traveller who returned to SA



South Australian health authorities say they are looking into a possible new coronavirus case which, if confirmed, would be the first in the state in more than a fortnight.

Further testing has been ordered on the individual, who SA Health said has a history of overseas travel.

“There is a possible case where a further test has been ordered and SA Health will make any announcements at the appropriate time,” Health Minister Stephen Wade said on Wednesday.

He said the test “won’t be available today” but the person was in isolation, and added he was not able to provide further details.

“This one’s only a possible case. Through this pandemic we’ve had a number of situations where a possible case has emerged.

“The reality is that we often need to get clarification before a case is announced. This case may or may not be confirmed.”

If confirmed, it would be the first case since three passengers, who arrived in Adelaide on a flight from Mumbai more than a fortnight ago, tested positive.

The total number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in SA since the pandemic began stands at 443.

According to SA Health, no-one in SA is currently in hospital with the disease.

Labor health spokesman Chris Picton said the Government should not be keeping the details from the public.

“We’ve had the minister being briefed on it but deciding that the public shouldn’t know about it,” he said.

“The least that we can do when South Australia has done such a good job is [ensuring] that the public be provided with the information.”

Staff to be fit for masks

Mr Wade announced Adelaide-produced respirator masks were now being fit-tested to local health workers in preparation for a possible second wave of coronavirus.

Speaking alongside the Health Minister, Royal Adelaide Hospital program delivery manager David Norton said masks made by local manufacturer Detmold would be distributed across the state and country.

“Since then we’ve had a local South Australian manufacturer, Detmold, stepping up to provide domestic protection.”

However, he said South Australia was the only state that required staff to have masks fitted to their faces.

Fit-testing allows staff to ensure masks are properly sealed and do not allow air to escape.

“We’ve begun the fit-testing process, we started on Monday and we’re working through all the core staff at the moment,” he said.

Priority staff such as those working in ICU and with infectious diseases have been fitted first, before all staff are fitted in the coming weeks and months.

Those who are not able to have a mask correctly fitted to their face will be moved into different roles.



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Victorian traveller in quarantine hotel after flying to Tasmania without exemption


A Victorian traveller is spending the night in a quarantine hotel, after flying to Tasmania without an exemption.

Yesterday, the Tasmanian Government announced Victorians would be barred from entering the island state unless they were able to meet strict exemption criteria.

According to a police spokesperson, just one person flew into Tasmania from Victoria without an exemption today.

They were tonight being housed in a quarantine hotel and were due to be returned to Melbourne “on the next available flight”.

For many Victorians who are ex-Tasmanians, Wednesday’s border announcement was heart-wrenching.

James Dare lives in Geelong, but his family is still in Tasmania.

“I’ve been holding out for months to have border restrictions eased down in Tassie so I can get home to see my dad and also my little daughter who’s down home [in Tasmania] as well,” he said.

James Dare lives in Geelong. His daughter Hannah and father Jerry are both in Tasmania.(Supplied: James Dare)

For Mr Dare, who moved to Geelong about two years ago, the announcement was “a hard pill to swallow” as his father is living with motor neurone disease (MND).

“He’s either in his wheelchair or he’s bed-bound. He has his carers in every day to sort of assist him with his day-to-day living,” Mr Dare said.

The last time he saw his father Jerry and daughter Hannah was in January.

In May, he missed Hannah’s 10th birthday, unable to return home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

He said he understood why the stricter border restrictions were put in place, but that it did not make it any easier.

“I was talking to her [Hannah] the other day and it was a pretty teary moment when I told her that I missed her very much, and she told me that she missed me just as much.”

Jerry Dare.
Jerry Dare was diagnosed with motor neurone disease shortly after his son James moved to Geelong.(ABC News: Peter Curtis)

He said he was also worried his father’s condition may deteriorate further.

“It’s a beast of a disease, MND. It doesn’t follow any pattern, nor does it follow any rules,” he said.

“Worst case scenario is that I might not get to see dad alive again.

“Absolutely worst case, but I’m still very positive that I will get down shortly.”

Mr Dare’s father said he believed the situation was harder for his son.

“It is what it is. There’s nothing anybody can do about it, but I think there should be some exemptions for people like us,” Jerry Dare said.

“Because I’ve got MND it just changes [quickly].

“James hasn’t seen me since January, and it has progressed and that’s hard for him not knowing what’s going on.

“You’re here one day and then gone the next with this disease. It’s cruel.”

Premier ‘sorry’ for ‘difficult circumstances’

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein announced today that he would be extending the state of emergency until the end of August.

“Tasmania does not have an emergency at the moment. But what we have is the risk of one based on what is occurring in Victoria,” he said.

He’s also set to make an announcement about Tasmania’s border restrictions on Friday, but travel between Victoria and Tasmania has already been taken off the table.

Even Tasmanian residents who have recently spent time in Victoria will need to quarantine in a hotel.

As for the Tassie expats living in Victoria, desperate to return, Mr Gutwein said he sympathised with their plight, but was standing by the public health advice.

“I’m aware of some very difficult circumstances and I’m sorry that we’ve put people into those circumstances but we’ve taken the steps that we’ve had to, to keep our state safe,” he said today.

Skype ‘not the same thing’

For Geelong resident Amanda Dent, the worst has already happened.

Her nan passed away in May, and while her parents were able to prove their Tasmanian residency, Ms Dent was unable to get down for the funeral —she could not afford to spend two weeks quarantined in a hotel.

Amanda held by her grandmother.
Amanda Dent (pictured as a baby) is devastated about losing her nan, but can’t wait to hug her pop.(Supplied: Amanda Dent)

Life for Ms Dent is relatively normal in Geelong, and until yesterday she was hopeful she would see her family soon.

“It was really hard to know that you don’t know when you’re going to get that opportunity to see your family.

“People will say ‘oh you can call and you can Skype’ but honestly it’s not the same as having that physical interaction with your family, especially when you’ve lost someone so close to you.”

While it’s too late too see her nan, Ms Dent said she wanted to make sure she could spend some quality time with her pop.

“He thinks he hasn’t got much time and I know he’s not coping very well through all of this, and something I really want to do is just hug him,” she said.

She does not know when she will get back to Tasmania, but when she does, she knows exactly what she’ll be doing.

“Go see my pop and my aunty and hug them. Probably cry,” she said.

“See my brother — he’s about to have his first child and I don’t know if I’ll be there for that. So there’s a lot of things down there to look forward to.”



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Traveller returning to NT tests positive – Alice Springs News


Traveller returning to NT tests positive

A Darwin man in his 30s has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) after returning from Melbourne, according to a media release from SecureNT.

 

The man had been in quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Melbourne from Pakistan. He was tested during this time and returned a negative result. 

 

While waiting for his flight to Darwin he stayed with family in a defined Melbourne hotspot area.

 

Complying with the current guidelines, the man has been quarantining at home since arriving in Darwin on Monday, June 29, where he lives alone.

 

In accordance with national medical guidelines, the Public Health Unit is undertaking contract tracing for Qantas flight QF610 which travelled from Melbourne to Brisbane on Monday, June 29 and Qantas flight QF 836 from Brisbane to Darwin on the same day.

 

The man is now in under the care of Royal Darwin Hospital in isolation, says the release.

 

All 31 cases of COVID-19 in the NT are related to international or interstate travel, with no cases of community transmission.

 

 

 

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