The Australian Defence Force was repeatedly rebuffed by Victorian authorities when it offered to provide security for quarantine hotels, an inquiry has heard.
On March 27, when it was decided returned overseas travellers would be required to complete 14 days of hotel quarantine, the ADF placed 100 personnel on standby in Victoria and other large states to “support expected quarantine compliance monitoring requests”.
According to the federal government’s submission to Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry, the NSW and Queensland governments immediately accepted the support.
Victoria, meanwhile, decided to contract private security companies to oversee the program.
The fateful decision was made at a meeting chaired by Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp on March 27.
Recordings of the meeting were played to the inquiry on Tuesday.
“I suggest that at this stage we can manage this. The ADF will be just exactly what they are doing at the moment, helping us to plan for this particular operation,” Mr Crisp said in the recording.
“At this stage we don’t see a need for boots on the ground, so to speak.”
He reiterated the decision in another meeting on March 28, after an ADF representative said the force was patrolling quarantine hotels in NSW.
“I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, at this particular point in time we certainly don’t see the need for ADF boots on the ground in support of this operation,” Mr Crisp said.
Returned travellers began arriving in Victoria on March 29.
On April 8, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens emailed Chris Eccles, the secretary of Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet to again offer ADF assistance.
Referencing the NSW arrangement, Mr Gaetjens said: “I am sure the Commonwealth would be willing to assist Victoria in a similar way if you wanted to reconsider your operating model”.
Mr Eccles replied: “Thanks Phil”.
It wasn’t until June 24 that Mr Crisp made a request for 850 defence personnel to replace private security.
The request, which had been prompted by the Department of Health and Human Services, was rescinded just a day later after the Department of Justice and Community Safety took over the program.
Mr Crisp told the inquiry he wasn’t opposed to the use of private security guards.
“Based on my work experience, I’ve worked with a lot of private security and my thinking was, well-trained, well-supervised private security in this type of role would have been sufficient and effective,” he said.
About 99 per cent of Victoria’s second COVID-19 wave can be traced to outbreaks at the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels.
In late May, when the virus first broke out of the hotels, 19 people in Victoria had died from COVID-19. The state’s death toll is now 729.
Also due to appear at the inquiry on Tuesday is Chris Eagle from Forest Fire Management Victoria, one of the key people involved in the program’s day-to-day management.