Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine Inquiry has called Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and “relevant parties” within the state government to submit additional statements after new evidence from the Premier’s office and the health department reveals contradictions in testimonies.
Appearing for the first time since closing public hearings three weeks ago, head of the Inquiry Justice Jennifer Coate, and Senior Counsel, Tony Neal, held an extraordinary sitting to provide a public update after new evidence emerged from Sutton’s emails.
According to the new evidence, Sutton may have known private security companies were involved in the quarantine hotels before the CCP virus outbreak in late-May contradicting his verbal testimony on Sept. 16.
Email threads involving Sutton and then-Deputy Health Commander Dr. Finn Romanes are part of five new items of evidence the inquiry has obtained. One particular email thread on March 27 implies Sutton knew that Victorian quarantine arrangements involved police at airports and private security guards for hotels under the quarantine regime.
“On its face, this email has relevance to the time at which Professor Sutton had knowledge of the use of private security within the hotel programme,” Neal said.
This information may contradict what Sutton said in his September testimony. It has prompted the inquiry to question Sutton further, and he has been asked for a second sworn statement. Sutton has seven days to respond.
The emails came to light in a report by The Age last week. They then notified the inquiry who subsequently requested the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Solicitors acting on behalf of the DHHS provided the inquiry with a letter on Oct. 19 explaining why these emails were deemed as “not relevant” to what the board was asking for, Neal said. They were among around 500,000 documents reviewed for consideration.
In further investigations of the evidence, the inquiry has requested phone records from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, including Premier Daniel Andrews and his chief of staff Lissie Ratcliff.
“It should be emphasised at this point the relevant parties are being asked to address such questions and are being asked to address novel material, not the subject of previous evidence,” Neal said.
The inquiry has issued a similar request previously, causing the resignation of the former Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) secretary, Chris Eccles. Eccles phone records revealed he gave false testimony and was in contact with then-police chief commissioner Graham Ashton during those critical six minutes where private security companies were allegedly confirmed to manage the program.
These new requests and evidence may also have a bearing on the delivery of the final report with Coate noting, she would “advise the premier ” and seek an extension if necessary.
So far the inquiry’s costs have risen to $6 million (US$4.2 million), double the original estimate.
Over 60 witnesses have been called, ranging from hotel staff, guests, security companies, to senior ministers.
Over 99 percent of COVID-19 infections since June can be traced back the outbreaks in the Melbourne hotels, according to previous witness Benjamin Peter Howden, director of the University of Melbourne’s Microbiological Diagnostic Unit.
A closing statement made by Assisting counsel Rachel Ellyard on Sept. 28 said that the decision to use private security came about through a creeping assumption. However former Victorian Health Minister Mikakos said that the Premier’s submission should be treated with caution, suggesting that it is implausible no one called for the use of private security guards.
Failures within the program are said to be responsible for the second wave of CCP virus in Victoria which has seen over 800 deaths attributed to COVID-19.