Victorian COVID Inquiry: Jobs Minister Clears Up Role in Failed Hotel Quarantine System

August 13, 2020 Updated: September 17, 2020

The Minister for the Victorian Department for Jobs, Precincts, and Regions Martin Pakula has shed some light on his role in the creation of Victoria’s hotel quarantine programme.

Appearing before the Victorian parliament’s COVID-19 inquiry on Aug. 12, Pakula revealed that his department was responsible for deciding which private security companies were going to be used in the hotel quarantine system. But he downplayed claims of being involved in any infection control functions.

Pakula told committee chairman and Liberal MP Richard Riordan, his department “whether it be from the Global Victoria team or elsewhere, we’re primarily responsible for things like logistics,” said at the inquiry on Aug. 12.

“That would be the booking of rooms and the organising of meals and laundry and things of that nature,” Pakula said.

“Under the operational plan, the operational control and the ­responsibility for infection control and health matters lay with the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said.

The committee also investigated the role Pakula department played in hiring private security for the hotel quarantine with Pakula’s department secretary Simon Phemister admitting that the department had only “about 36 hours” to set up the programme before it officially started on midnight March 28.

Phemister also confirmed to the inquiry that it was not the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions decision to utilise private security guards.

“We simply played the role of procuring private security, that would be operationalised through the plan,” said Phemister.

The inquiry was also told that the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions questioned early on if police assistance was needed for the quarantine program.

Pakula told the  COVID-19 inquiry, “There were on a couple of occasions, early in the program, entreaties from officers in my department, where it was our view that police should be on-site at hotels,” Pakula said.

According to a report in The Age on Aug. 12, Phemister raised the department’s concerns with deputy state controller Craig Eagle who is also deputy chief Fire Officer at Forest Fire Management Victoria.

“The deputy state controller [Eagle] acknowledged and heard at all times any concerns that were raised,” Phemister said. “What he did with our concerns, I’m unsure.”

Offers of Australian Defence Force Help Rejected

Phemister also acknowledged that the Victorian government had been aware of an offer made by the Australian Defence Forces but that this offer was discarded during a critical meeting on March 27.

Victoria police were eventually employed in July after genome sequencing revealed the second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks were tied to security guards working at the hotels for quarantine.

Victoria has recorded 15,863 cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, and 275 deaths.

On Aug. 11 during the opening hearing, Andrews denied having any knowledge of even an offer from the Australian Defence Forces.

Federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds contradicted this in a statement on Aug. 11 insisting ADF support was offered to Victoria “on multiple occasions.”

Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said in a statement, supporting comments made by Andrews, the ADF was part of initial meetings in March but nothing further.

“During these discussions, I did not seek nor did representatives of the ADF offer assistance as part of the hotel quarantine program,” he said.

This article was updated to correct the spelling of Craig Eagle’s name. The Epoch Times regrets the error.