Victoria hotel quarantine inquiry LIVE updates: Victoria Police officials Shane Patton, Graham Ashton to appear, Victoria case average continues to decline

Source
For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.

Today's hearing is due to begin at 10am. You can watch the proceedings live, below:

Latest updates

Jobs Minister Martin Pakula will front Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry next week.

The senior MP revealed this morning that he has been asked give evidence next Wednesday - the same day as Premier Daniel Andrews.

Victoria's Jobs Minister Martin Pakula.

Victoria's Jobs Minister Martin Pakula. Credit:Joe Armao

The inquiry has so far heard Mr Pakula’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions was responsible for contracting the private security companies who guarded returned travellers, as well as organising the hotels that hosted guests.

He told reporters on Thursday morning he believed the roles of his department had already been made clear during the inquiry.

"If I'm asked any questions about that at the inquiry next week, I’ll provide clarity if any more clarity is required," he said.

Offers of Australian Defence Force support for Victoria's hotel quarantine program have been hotly debated this week and are making headlines again this morning.

You might remember it was part of our coverage on Tuesday when the federal government handed its submission to the inquiry.

The submission revealed that Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews three times in July offering the support of the ADF.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeatedly offered ADF assistance to Victoria, contradicting claims made by Premier Daniel Andrews.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeatedly offered ADF assistance to Victoria, contradicting claims made by Premier Daniel Andrews.Credit:Getty Images/Alex Ellinghausen

"When the COVID-19 case numbers began to escalate in Victoria by the end of June 2020, the Prime Minister wrote to Premier Andrews on three separate occasions (4 July 2020, 6 July 2020 and 11 July 2020) reaffirming the Commonwealth’s preparedness to continue the provision of ADF support to Victoria as needed," the submission reads.

"Premier Andrews expressed his appreciation for the Commonwealth’s continued efforts in meeting previous requests for assistance, including ADF assistance (letters dated 5 July 2020, 7 July 2020, 12 July 2020 and 14 July 2020)."

But by then, Victoria's second wave was already surging.

The submission also revealed that Victoria's top public servant was offered ADF support for the quarantine program back in April.

The email was sent by the boss of the Commonwealth public service, Phil Gaetjens, to Chris Eccles, his equivalent in the Victorian public service.

Mr Gaetjens said the NSW government had received help with its quarantine hotels from the ADF.

"The Commonwealth would be willing to assist Victoria in a similar way if you wanted to reconsider your model," Mr Gaetjens wrote.

"Thanks Phil," Mr Eccles responded.

Private security guards, many working as casual subcontractors at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in Carlton and the CBD’s Stamford Plaza, spread the virus from returned travellers into the wider community. Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told the inquiry yesterday that, "with the benefit of hindsight", the use of such an insecure workforce was unfortunate.

"I can see that using a highly casualised workforce, generally from a lower socio-economic background, where that means that poor leave provisions, limit how one can care for and financially support one’s family if unwell," he said.

Here are some of the key points raised during yesterday's hearing:

  • At least one returned traveller left hotel quarantine while infected with COVID-19 and passed it on to the person who drove them home. The person who was quarantined at the Stamford Plaza was unknowingly carrying the virus, but at the time COVID-19 testing was not mandatory for all returned travellers.
The Stamford Plaza - the source of a major outbreak partly responsible for Victoria's second coronavirus wave.

The Stamford Plaza - the source of a major outbreak partly responsible for Victoria's second coronavirus wave. Credit:Getty Images

  • Victoria's former deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen said she believes no single individual is to blame for the state's botched hotel quarantine, saying a large number of small actions or decisions undertaken by a large number of people was behind the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

I'm not trying to blame anybody. I don't believe that any one individual is responsible for what occurred.

Annaliese van Diemen
  • Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton identified considerable risk to the health and safety of detainees in Victoria's hotel quarantine system just two weeks after it began. He said he endorsed an email sent by Public Health Commander Dr Finn Romanes who wrote there was "a lack of a unified plan for this program," and that the people running the program were not "satisfied there is a policy and set processes to manage the healthcare and welfare of detainees, for whom this program is accountable".

Absolutely, Dr Romanes was acting on behalf of me in highlighting concerns that he had.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton
  • Professor Sutton told the inquiry that he would have preferred being in charge of the state's COVID-19 response, but Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck decided the Chief Health Officer would be too busy to fill the crucial role.
  • Chief health officers from across the country did not formally endorse the hotel quarantine program before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced it.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton was the inquiry's star witness yesterday.

He revealed that he knew as early as April of the significant risks of hotel quarantine but was in the dark about how badly the system was run until media reports six weeks later revealed an outbreak that caused Melbourne’s second wave.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.Credit:Eddie Jim

Professor Sutton told the inquiry that it was clear from April 9, just two weeks after hotel quarantine was set up, that it carried “considerable risk” because it lacked a clear leader and line of accountability to the Deputy Chief Health Officer.

The Chief Health Officer said he was not involved in the decision to hire private security contractors to supervise hotel quarantine and did not find out about it “until after the outbreaks”. It was only in hindsight that he realised how dangerous it was for the state to use a highly casualised workforce with poor job security to fulfil the crucial role of guarding thousands of returned travellers from overseas.

“My team and I did not have oversight in relation to infection prevention and control personnel and processes in place at each hotel,” he said.

Professor Sutton’s deputy, Annaliese van Diemen, said in her evidence that "everybody has responsibility in some way, shape or form", prompting a query from Arthur Moses, QC, the counsel for security guard company Unified: “Are you trying to blame others?”

Dr Annaliese van Diemen.

Dr Annaliese van Diemen.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Dr van Diemen had earlier warned that the hotel quarantine program was being run as a “logistics or compliance exercise” rather than a health program, meaning she “lost the opportunity” to know if infection control measures, including the use of protective gear, were adhered to in the hotels.

Private security guards, many working as casual subcontractors at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in Carlton and the CBD’s Stamford Plaza, spread the virus from returned travellers into the wider community. Professor Sutton told the inquiry that, “with the benefit of hindsight”, the use of such an insecure workforce was unfortunate.

“I can see that using a highly casualised workforce, generally from a lower socio-economic background, where that means that poor leave provisions, limit how one can care for and financially support one’s family if unwell,” he said.

Today's hearing is due to begin at 10am. You can watch the proceedings live, below:

10am: Andrea Spiteri and Jason Helps

12pm: Chief Police Commissioner Shane Patton

1-2pm: Lunch break

2-4pm: Former police chief Graham Ashton

Good morning, it's Marissa Calligeros here and I will be with you for much of the morning, bringing you the latest developments from the hotel quarantine inquiry with my colleague, legal affairs reporter Tammy Mills.

Chief Police Commissioner Shane Patton and his predecessor, Graham Ashton, will appear before the inquiry today.

But first, we are due to hear from state government officials Andrea Spiteri and Jason Helps who held the role of state controller, leading Victoria's overall response to the pandemic, instead of Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

Jason Helps, a Department of Health and Human Services manager who in late 2019 was a divisional acting director of emergency management and health protections, was Victoria’s first state controller in the pandemic.

Loading