Leaked email exposes secret plea to ADF
A leaked email reveals Victoria pleaded for the military to help monitor the hotel quarantine program 10 days ago, despite Premier Daniel Andrews insisting no such request was made.
The Herald Sun has obtained a copy of a "high priority" request from Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp - circulated between the Home Affairs and Defence departments - for 850 ADF personnel to police the quarantine program.
The June 24 request said they were needed "to provide compliance and monitoring support to Department of Health and Human Services at the designated hotels being used for mandatory quarantine".
It comes as state Health and Human Services deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck has been sidelined in an overhaul of the bungled program believed to be behind most virus cases now circulating, amid warnings more suburbs could be locked down.
Mr Crisp's request specifically noted the ADF personnel were required to support the "active monitoring of quarantine compliance by individuals in hotel quarantine".
"It has been identified that there is the lack of access to skilled resources to undertake specific functions," the request detailed, adding other resources had been "exhausted".
The request was later cancelled in mysterious circumstances.
Lodged on June 24 it was torn up by the Andrews Government the following day with a revised request lodged and approved for 200 personnel to help with the state's testing blitz.
Mr Andrews had on Friday claimed that consideration was only given to using the personnel to transport returned travellers from Melbourne airports to hotels.
He said: "The ADF are providing support, and I'm sure they're doing a fantastic job in relation to transport between the airport and hotels in Sydney.
"We had conversations with the ADF about doing the same thing, playing that same role here in Melbourne, and it was deemed by agreement by the government and the ADF that they would simply be replicating the work SkyBus doing very well.
"The notion that the ADF are involved across the board or were somehow offered up to run the entire program is simply wrong.
"There was an opportunity for them to be involved in transportation - they deemed and we deemed by agreement that was not necessarily more or less than what we're doing now. And frankly that's not where the problem's been."
The National Cabinet resolved in March to quarantine all return travellers but left the management of the program to each state and territory.
It was resolved that ADF and Australian Border Force support would be used where necessary.
Mr Andrews has refused to explain the decision to use private security contractors to monitor the hotel quarantine operation instead of military or police.
But the decision has led to the state's second wave and forced localised lockdown of more than 300,000 Victorians.
The bungled quarantine system will now be completely overhauled with senior government bureaucrats axed from the task force.
Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kym Peake announced Operation Soteria would start from Monday.
But department insiders say senior bureaucrats previously involved had been left out of the new task force, including deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck, who had been the head of the COVID-19 Emergency Accommodation and Enforcement Compliance functions.
As the deputy secretary of regulation, emergency management and health prevention earning more than $300,00 per year.
She is also the direct boss of Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
She has been stripped from the task force only days after Premier Daniel Andrews announces a lockdown of 36 suburbs and called for a judicial inquiry.
Several other bureaucrats have also been returned to normal duties or moved on.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has come under increasing pressure in recent days over the bungled program with the State Opposition calling for her resignation.
The Herald Sun understands that a nurse who had worked at the Park Royal quarantine hotel has tested positive.
Opposition spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said bureaucrats "have been forced to take the fall for the Minister's incompetence".
A DHHS spokeswoman said "to assist us continue to deliver these programs the structures within the department will be refined to continue to support the necessary services we are providing."
SECURITY FIRMS COULD FACE CRIMINAL CHARGEST: EXPERT
A top legal figure says criminal charges could be laid against security firms which charged for services not provided in the quarantine hotel fiasco.
Eminent barrister Phillip Dunn QC said operators involved in "ghosting" were at risk of a fraud-related charges such as obtaining a financial advantage by deception.
Ghosting rorts involve billing a client for security services which were not provided, for example charging for 40 staff when 30 were rostered on.
Mr Dunn said an investigation could lead to those responsible facing jail.
''If the conduct is fraudulent and deceptive it can lead to serious
criminal charges with jail penalties,'' he said.
Mr Dunn said he also believed the door was open for civil action by the State Government against firms which had breached contracts with their misconduct.
He said the government could sue a security firm if qualified people have not been employed and irregularities were found breaching a contract.
Mr Dunn said he would be surprised if the Andrews government did not launch
an urgent investigation with the view to both criminal and civil action.
The Herald Sun revealed on Thursday allegations of ghosting and illegal cash-in-hand payments by unscrupulous operators, as well as rumours of guards having sex with guests.
Another dodgy practice yesterday emerged as the crisis deepened.
Sources said this one involved companies encouraging individual guards to take out ABN's so they are less expensive to pay because they had to take care of their own tax and superannuation.
Among the damning allegations were reports security guards manning quarantine hotels were also acting as Uber drivers.
Rebecca, a student in Brunswick, caught a rideshare service on June 22 to avoid public transport but was shocked when told by her driver that he was working as a security guard at a quarantine hotel.
"I was a bit shocked. I would have chosen rideshare as the safer option above public transport," she told the Herald Sun.
"I also expected there would have been a process in place to make sure people at the hotel weren't also driving people around."
Corrections Victoria officers on Friday took over security at the troubled Rydges on Swanston Hotel.
Those staff - among them prison guards - have been drafted in to manage hotel guests after quarantine was identified as the source of fresh Melbourne outbreaks.
CV personnel could be seen in the Rydges foyer and an underground carpark of the hotel.
A Rydges Hotel staff member said he had not noticed any issues with security in the past two months, but lamented an incident at another hotel could have ruined months of work.
Caution was observed by those who were making deliveries, with a parcel thrown over a temporary barricade at the front of the hotel to ensure distance from staff.
A cleaner later mopped the entrance stairs.
Management of both Rydges and Stamford Plaza said they had nothing to do with engaging security staff when the quarantine program began in March.
Meanwhile, security giant Wilson said none of its staff had tested positive to COVID-19.
A Wilson statement said the company welcomed the judicial inquiry announced this week which will examine the quarantine hotels shemozzle.
"Our processes, policies, and - most importantly - implementation of protection services in this instance have been commended by departmental staff throughout the process," the company said.
- Anthony Dowsley and Mark Buttler
Originally published as Leaked email exposes secret plea to ADF