News State Victoria News Victoria Police wanted private security guards used in hotel quarantine, inquiry told

Victoria Police wanted private security guards used in hotel quarantine, inquiry told

hotel inquiry virus victoria
Ninety per cent of Victoria's current COVID-19 cases have been traced back to an outbreak at the Rydges on Swanston hotel. Photo: Google Maps
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Victoria Police wanted private security guards to oversee guests in the state’s hotel quarantine program, with the ultimate decision to use contractors made at an urgent meeting chaired by Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp, a government bureaucrat says.

Claire Febey, a director at Victoria’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, told the inquiry into the botched program that Mr Crisp tasked her department with the role of organising contracts for guards.

Ms Febey shed light on a critical meeting at the State Control Centre on March 27, before returned travellers were detained in hotels from March 29.

“It was Victoria Police’s preference … that private security be the first line of security?” counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard asked Ms Febey.

“That’s right,” she replied.

“I understood [Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner] Mick Grainger had given that directive, in conversation with Andrew Crisp.”

victoria virus hotel inquiry
Ms Febey said it was sometimes challenging to get timely information from DHHS. Photo: COVID-19 Hotel Inquiry

According to a transcript of an audio recording of the meeting, Mr Grainger said it was “absolutely” Victoria Police’s preference that private security be the front line with guests.

“It was my view that Victoria Police should be present onsite at hotels 24/7, and that perimeter or proximate patrol was not adequate,” Ms Febey said.

“I considered that the work of security should be under the direction of authorised officers, with Victoria Police there to oversee and manage escalation.”

Representatives from Victoria Police are due to give evidence at the inquiry next week.

The inquiry has previously heard that 99 per cent of Victoria’s second wave cases emanated from outbreaks at the Stamford and Rydges hotels.

Private security guards have been blamed for not following infection protocols and were among the first to be infected, leading to the virus being spread into the community.

Ms Febey said her department took on the responsibility of contracting the guards as part of its role in hiring other suppliers like caterers and cleaners.

victoria infections spike
The Stamford Plaza was one of two Melbourne hotels at the centre of the outbreak.

Departments at odds over safety equipment

Ms Febey she initially believed her department would be the lead agency running the hotel program, but that was changed to the Department of Health and Human Services before March 29.

She said DJPR’s role shifted to providing logistical support, such as organising hotel contracts, food for guests and a call centre that provided a “concierge” service.

According to Ms Febey’s witness statement, her department believed “all staff should wear PPE and DHHS was seeking to limit and conserve PPE usage”.

“DHHS counselled us away from that approach, saying that PPE needed to be conserved and that it was inappropriate for staff to use PPE unless they were unable to avoid being 1.5 metres away from a quarantined person,” she said.

Ms Febey was moved to another department project on April 12, about two weeks after returned travellers began entering hotels.

The inquiry, chaired by former Judge Jennifer Coate, is investigating who was in charge of the failed hotel program and how it was run, along with why private security firms were chosen to oversee returned travellers.

Other DJPR leaders Katrina Currie and Gonul Serbest have been summoned to give evidence on Thursday.

On Friday, representatives from Travelodge, Crown, Four Points by Sheraton, Rydges and the Stamford Plaza hotels are scheduled to give evidence.

Last week, DHHS authorised officer Luke Ashford told the inquiry he received no training on infection control practices or how to use personal protective equipment, but was required to complete “equity and diversity” training.

Meanwhile, a guard subcontracted to work at the Rydges Hotel said he caught the virus but continued to turn up to other jobs, because he was “bored”.