The federal government offered troops to help run Victoria’s hotel quarantine on ‘multiple occasions’ – but the state government refused and decided to use private security guards instead, it was revealed today.
In an inquiry on Tuesday morning, Premier Daniel Andrews said ADF support was not offered after the quarantine program was set up in March.
But Defence Minister Linda Reynolds released a damning statement saying repeated offers were snubbed.
Victoria’s deadly second wave was sparked after coronavirus escaped from hotel quarantine, which was enforced by private security firms, in late May.
Security guards have been accused of breaching social distancing rules, allowing separate families to play cards and even having sex with returned travellers.
The premier was today asked why he chose not to use the police or the ADF to enforce the quarantine program.
He said: ‘I don’t believe ADF support was on offer. It’s been provided in limited circumstances in New South Wales, not to provide security as such but to provide transportation from the airport to hotels.
‘I think it is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there was hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow someone said no. That’s not, in my judgement, accurate.’
However, Senator Reynolds said her department offered support ‘multiple times’ and was repeatedly turned down.
She said in a statement: ‘ADF officials asked whether Victorian authorities required assistance with its mandatory quarantine system on multiple occasions.
‘No request for quarantine support was subsequently received from Victoria at that time.’
The statement also made clear that ADF troops were deployed in both Queensland and New South Wales to guard returned travellers as well as transport them.
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said Daniel Andrews had been caught lying.
‘Andrews himself claimed ADF would be used from the very start of the program,’ he wrote on Twitter.
Mr O’Brien shared an image of a statement released by the premier on 27 March – when quarantine program was announced – which said: ‘It has also been agreed that the Australian Defence Force will be engaged to support the implementation of these arrangements.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Mr Andrews’ office for comment.
The only request for ADF support for quarantine from the Victorian government came on 24 June, Senator Reynolds said.
On that day Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp requested 850 troops to help with hotel quarantine compliance – but the request was withdrawn the next day.
Asked why it was withdrawn, Mr Andrews said: ‘The question you’re referring to, you’d need to speak to the person who made that request because it was not made by anybody in a position of authority.’
During the inquiry today, the premier was also asked whose idea it was to man hotel quarantine with private security guards instead of the police and army troops.
Mr Andrews said the Victorian government had already been using private security guards for quarantining health workers and vulnerable people before the quarantine program for returned travellers began.
‘It was essentially an extension of a program that we had already stood up. Nothing more, nothing less,’ he said.
The premier was asked if he regrets ‘the decision to employ private security guards in hotel quarantine’.
He replied: ‘No-one wanted a second wave of the virus. But none of us have the luxury of going back in time.’
Mr Andrews was the first witness called at the second sitting of the Victorian Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s COVID-19 Inquiry on Tuesday.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has previously said it is conceivable that all Victoria’s second-wave cases arose from security employed at hotels unwittingly carrying the virus out of quarantine.
The debacle first came to public attention on May 27 when the infection of a security guard working at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in Carlton, inner-north Melbourne was announced.
The following week, on June 6, the spread of the deadly virus appeared under control as zero cases were recorded for the first time since March 5.
But on June 17 an outbreak erupted at the Stamford Plaza in Melbourne’s CBD and 21 new cases were recorded across the state.
It emerged that guards working for private security firms – contracted by the Andrews government to run the quarantine scheme – had breached social distancing requirements and failed to enforce the rules.
On Tuesday Victoria recorded 19 deaths and 331 cases of coronavirus, taking the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 247 and the national figure to 332.
New daily case numbers have declined in Victoria since the peak of 725 on 5 August.