The critical call to use private security guards in Melbourne’s hotel quarantine program was a collective “creeping assumption” influenced by Premier Daniel Andrews and the former Police commissioner, Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry has heard.
After six weeks of interviewing 63 witnesses—the board of inquiry on Sept. 28 concluded no individual made the call to use private security guards instead of Victoria Police or Australian Defence Forces in the state’s compulsory quarantine system.
Assisting Counsel, Rachel Ellyard’s submission on the final day of Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine Inquiry noted that after the crucial state control meeting on Mar. 27 it was a collective assumption that private security was to be employed.
Ellyard said that comments made by Andrews and the former Commissioner Graham Ashton were significant influences in the assumption but not outright decisions.
Evidence provided by Ashton had suggested that police prefered private security to guard returnees in hotels and Ellyard noted that this view was a “substantial contributing factor to that creeping consensus.”
“The expression of a preference can readily be understood to have given the clear impression that police weren’t going to do it,” she said.
Remarks made by Andrews at a press conference also contributed to that general creeping assumption that became a reality, Ellyard noted.
Andrews told reporters on Mar. 27 that private security will be involved in quarantine program following a national cabinet meeting on the same day. When asked about this, he was unable to recall why he said that.
A lack of recollection has been a common feature of senior officials during the inquiry.
In previous hearings then-Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, Jobs Minister Martin Pakula and Police Minister Lisa Neville all denied being involved in the decision to implement private security guards.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, his predecessor Graham Ashton, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and several senior public servants have also said they don’t know.
“As nobody took responsibility, it has to be understood as a “failure of decision making.”
A quarantine program was agreed upon by all state premiers. How they implemented their programs varied.
On last day of witness hearings, Andrews gave evidence pointing responsibility for the hotel quarantine program on then-state Department of Human Health and Services coordinator and former health minister Jenny Mikakos.
Mikakos resigned the next day, citing in her resignation letter that she disagreed with the Premier’s given statements at the inquiry.
“There are elements in it that I strongly disagree with; I believe that I cannot continue to serve in his Cabinet,” she said.
Former mental health minister and current Fabian Society member Martin Foley has replaced her.
Victoria’s spread of COVID-19 community transmission has so far resulted in more than 18,000 recorded infections and over 750 lives lost. It can be traced back to outbreaks among security guards at two quarantine hotels.
The inquiry which was launched by Andrews on July has cost over $3 million in tax-payers money. Retired judge Jennifer Coate, will give a final report on Nov. 6. Until then international flights will continue to be diverted to other states.