A former chief of Victoria Police has told the Victorian government quarantine inquiry that the critical decision to use private security guards in the hotel quarantine programme came from the Premier’s office.
Former Police Commissioner Graham Ashton told the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry on Thursday that the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s (DPC) secretary Chris Eccles had reached an agreement to use private security guards.
Ashton retired as Victoria Police Commissioner in June amidst a second wave of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
A series of text messages between former Police Commissioner Ashton and Federal Commissioner Reece Kershaw reveal Ashton questioned why Australian Federal Police (AFP) were not utilised for the hotel quarantine.
“Mate. Question. Why wouldn’t AFP Guard people At The hotel??” Ashton wrote to in a text message to Kershaw on the afternoon of March 27.
Ashton sent a follow-up text moments later: “Mate. My advice (sic) is the ADF do passenger transfer, and private security will be used.”
“Ok, that’s new,” Kershaw replied.
“I think that’s the deal set up by our DPC. I understand NSW (New South Wales) will be a different arrangement,” Ashton wrote.
He was unable to recall exactly who’s idea it was to use private security guards but implied it came from Eccles who he was in contact with before communicating with Kershaw around 1.20 p.m.
Further evidence submitted to the inquiry showed the directive came from the Premier’s adviser.
An email from then Deputy Commissioner of Capability, Rick Nugent to Ashton on March 28 said that “private security will be employed for this health intervention,” he wrote.
Nugent said he received a late-night call from the DPC confirming this deal.
In response to Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths, Premier Dan Andrews has implemented strict stage four restrictions for Greater Melbourne and stage three for regional Victoria.
Melbourne’s lockdown, which includes restricted travel, compulsory masks everywhere, and outdoor exercises capped at two hours only, has stirred global human rights concerns. Furthermore, it has caused a significant economic downturn in the state.
Andrews admitted to errors in the hotel quarantine system, that have potentially contributed to the second virus outbreak.
“Mistakes have been made in relation to this program. The community’s entitled to answers,” Andrews said in parliament on Sept. 17.
The victorian premier is expected to front the inquiry on Sept. 23.
The Hotel Quarantine Inquiry, head by former judge Jennifer Coate began early July. Its purpose is to examine the quarantine system and investigate the decisions made by state government agencies and private companies.