United Kingdom

Victorian State Controllers for the COVID-19 had no role in private security guards

Two of the bureaucrats tasked with leading Victoria's response to the COVID-19 pandemic claim they were not involved in placing private security guards at quarantine hotels.

Victoria's bungled hotel quarantining of returned travellers led to the state's horrific second wave, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of elderly Victorians. 

On Thursday, two former state controllers in the COVID-19 pandemic, Jason Helps and Andrea Spiteri, both claimed they had no role in deciding on the employment of the private security firms.  

The inquiry has been running for near on a month, with no-one yet to claim responsibility for the disastrous decision. 

Quarantine breaches involving private security guards seeded 99 per cent of Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID infections, which in turn has led to more than 700 deaths of the elderly. 

On Thursday, the inquiry heard there was initially confusion over exactly who was in charge of the hotel initiative. 

Top bureaucrats tasked with leading Victoria's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrea Spiteri and Jason Helps (above), claim they were not involved in placing private security guards at quarantine hotels.

The inquiry heard there was confusion over who was in charge of the hotel quarantine

Victoria's bungled hotel quarantining of returned travellers led to the state's horrific second wave, which affected hundreds of elderly Victorians

On March 29, a Department of Jobs executive made an urgent request for Victoria Police to be stationed in hotels on the first night of hotel quarantine.

Claire Febey emailed Mr Helps, who was then state controller, and asked police be stationed at hotels 24-hours a day.

'We request that Victoria Police is present 24/7 at each hotel, starting from this evening,' she wrote. 

'We ask that DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] urgently make that request as the control agency.'

The inquiry heard that request resulted in a series of meetings that went on for days, none of which resulted in police being placed inside the hotels. 

Instead, police were tasked with patrolling the surrounding areas of the hotels where they could be called in by security guards if contacted. 

Documents provided to the inquiry revealed private guards were under the initial impression that police would be on site at the hotels. 

In a document titled 'Core duties at the hotel',  private security were advised their role would be to support DHHS staff and Victoria Police. 

They were further advised 'Victoria Police officers will be present at the hotel to meet quarantined guests on their arrival' at the hotels. 

Ms Spiteri, who would later replace Mr Helps in the top job, told the inquiry she had asked that police be present at the hotels. 

'My personal view is that it would have been preferable to have a small Victoria Police presence at every hotel 24/7 in addition to private security, but not to replace private security entirely,' she stated.

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'I believe the Department’s staff would have felt safer in the hotels if this had been in place, and in turn, returned travellers would not feel intimidated or alarmed by a full Victoria Police presence on every floor.'

Ms Spiteri added that she thought a 24/7 police presence at quarantine hotels may have been helpful in setting an example for security staff as to appropriate behaviour, 'or potentially acting as a deterrent for inappropriate behaviour'.

Reports of private security guards behaving badly have circulated for months, with allegations ranging from them sleeping on the job to sleeping with quarantined hotel guests. 

Ms Spiteri said she had  expressed her view verbally on several occasions to other departmental executive staff, but could not remember exactly when she had done so.  

Document outlining rules and responsibilities for hotel quarantine in Victoria

She further told the inquiry that the use of Australian Defence Force personnel could not be requested while the state had access to adequate resources of its own to deal with the hotels. 

'In other words, Victoria, along with all other States and Territories must exhaust local resources before ADF assistance can be formally requested,' she stated.

'Decisions on the role of the ADF in the Hotel Quarantine Program had been made by others early in the initial planning of the Program, and I did not consider it was within my authority as State Controller - Health to change those decisions.'

Ms Spiteri said while she considered using ADF in late June, she did not think they were an appropriate solution long term. 

She told the inquiry while returned travellers were 'overwhelmingly cooperative and compliant', she had been alerted to non-compliance from security guards, through unwillingness or simple lack of understanding.  

Chief Police Commissioner Shane Patton and his predecessor, Graham Ashton, will appear before the inquiry later today. 

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