Daniel Andrews refused to accept ADF troops to man Victoria’s catastrophic hotel quarantine operation despite repeated offers from the prime minister, explosive emails have revealed.
The premier previously denied turning down military help but emails from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office show it was offered several times.
When the coronavirus quarantine policy was announced on 27 March, New South Wales accepted 360 troops and Queensland took 100 but Victoria refused any help, an inquiry heard on Tuesday.
An email (pictured) from the prime minister’s office to the premier’s office on June 24 shows the pair discussed the ADF support that was on offer. But Victoria declined to accept it
The Victorian premier (pictured) previously denied turning down military help but emails from the prime minister’s office show it was offered several times
On April 8, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens emailed his Victorian counterpart Chris Eccles to again offer ADF assistance.
Referencing how the ADF helped with security in NSW, Mr Gaetjens wrote: ‘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’ – but no request for help was made.
Instead, Victoria used private security guards who flouted social distancing rules, caught the virus in late May and helped spark the state’s second wave which has killed more than 700 people.
It wasn’t until June 24 that Victoria’s emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp made a request for 850 defence personnel to replace private security.
An email from the prime minister’s office to the premier’s office on that day shows the pair discussed the support.
Stunning images have shown Melbourne hotel quarantine guests who were ordered to isolate inside their rooms walking to a nearby convenience store
But the request was rescinded a day later after the Department of Justice and Community Safety took over the program.
A federal government submission to Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry on Tuesday also shows that Mr Morrison wrote to the premier three times – on July 4, 6 and 11 – ‘reaffirming the Commonwealth’s willingness to provide ADF support if needed’.
The evidence contradictions Mr Andrews’s claim to in August that help was not offered.
‘(It’s) fundamentally incorrect to assert that there were hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow, someone said no,’ Mr Andrews told a parliamentary committee.
The premier told reporters on Tuesday he wasn’t interested in ‘having a debate with the prime minister’.
‘The prime minister’s representations to the inquiry – I’ll leave that to the inquiry to make recommendations and findings about that,’ he said.
About 99 per cent of Victoria’s second COVID-19 wave, which has killed hundreds and led to the nation’s toughest lockdown, can be traced to outbreaks at two hotels.
The decision to hire private security 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, following reports ADF personnel were 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,’ Mr Crisp said.
Returned travellers began arriving in Victoria the following day.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the Hunter Business Chamber at WesTrac headquarters in Newcastle
Mr Crisp told the inquiry it was Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton’s preference to use private security guards and he wasn’t opposed.
‘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,’ Mr Crisp said.
In his statement tendered to the inquiry, Mr Crisp said he was aware of ‘challenges’ with security staff as early as March 30.
During a meeting on April 4, he learnt there had been reports security guards were ‘not following good social distancing practices and that a few breaches involving physical distancing and infection control practices’.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, his deputy Annaliese van Diemen and their Department of Health and Human Services colleagues Jason Helps and Andrea Spiteri will give evidence when public hearings continue on Wednesday.
How Victoria rejected ADF support
* March 27 – National Cabinet decides returned overseas travellers will be required to complete 14 days of hotel quarantine. The Australia Defence Force prepares 100 personnel in each large state (and 50 in smaller states and territories) to ‘support expected quarantine compliance monitoring requests’. NSW and Queensland accept the support, Victoria decides to hire private security guards instead.
* March 28 – Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp reiterates there is no need for ADF ‘boots on the ground’. Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, named Operation Soteria, begins taking travellers from 11:59pm.
* March 31 – ADF situational report states ‘we are seeing minimal requests for ADF support’ in Victoria. Troops remain on standby.
* April 2 – ADF provides five personnel to conduct quarantine compliance monitoring. Instead, they are deployed to administrative roles.
* April 8 – Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens emails Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles to again offer ADF assistance.
*April 17 – ADF situational report states Victoria’s hotel quarantine program is ‘nearing planned capacity of ~4000 people. Despite this there are presently no indicators that ADF assistance will be requested in the near term. I will keep a close watch on this space’.
* May 14 – ADF Major General Kenny visits Victoria, meets with deputy commissioner of Victoria Police and Mr Crisp. Mr Crisp tells Major General Kelly words to the effect of: ‘The situation in Victoria has improved to such an extent that it is unlikely that Victoria would need any further ADF support except planners inside of EMV’.
* May 25 – A staff member at Rydges on Swanston tests positive to COVID-19.
* May 27 – Outbreak at Rydges on Swanston first identified by the Department of Health and Human Services.
* June 17 – Stamford Plaza outbreak identified.
* June 24 – Mr Crisp requests 850 ADF personnel to replace private security at quarantine hotels.
* June 25 – Request rescinded as the Department of Justice and Community Safety takes over the program.
* June 30 – Premier Daniel Andrews announces an inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program after genomic sequencing revealed a number of coronavirus cases can be linked to ‘staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well-known and well-understood infection control protocols’. Flights diverted to other cities.
* July 4, July 6, July 11 – As COVID-19 cases numbers escalate in Victoria, Prime Minister Scott Morrison writes to Mr Andrews on three occasions to offer ADF support.
* July 13 – Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton concedes all current cases in Victoria can be traced back to outbreaks at the hotels.
* August 11 – Mr Andrews tells a parliamentary inquiry ADF support was not offered for hotel quarantine, sparking a war of words with federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
Source: Materials provided by the federal government to Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry.