Calls are growing for Daniel Andrews to resign after an inquiry heard the state’s hotel quarantine disaster caused 768 deaths and more than 18,000 coronavirus infections.
Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said the quarantine operation was ‘the worst failure of public administration in Victorian history’.
He added: ‘If accountability for the deaths and damage is to mean anything, all those responsible must go – starting with Andrews.’
Calls are growing for Daniel Andrews (pictured) to resign after an inquiry heard the state’s hotel quarantine disaster caused 768 deaths
Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said the quarantine operation (pictured are travellers arriving) was ‘the worst failure of public administration in Victorian history’
On Monday afternoon the final day of Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry heard the program’s failure was responsible for the deaths of all 768 residents who have died in the state’s second wave.
Counsel assisting Ben Ihle said: ‘The failure by the hotel quarantine program to contain this virus is at today’s date responsible for the deaths of 768 people and the infection of some 18,490 others.
‘One only needs to pause and to reflect on those figures to appreciate the full scope of devastation and despair’.
‘This was a program which failed to meet its primary objective.’
Mr Ihle said protective gear was not used properly, staff were poorly trained and there was a lack of social distancing at the quarantine hotels.
He said the system was set up quickly and the government failed to monitor it.
‘What was established was necessarily untested and prudence dictated that the program should have been accompanied by intensive ongoing monitoring and auditing,’ he said.
‘The Victorian government failed to adequately ensure that this was done.’
Former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos resigned on Saturday after Mr Andrews said she was ‘accountable’ for the quarantine program.
On Sunday Mr Andrews said he would not resign, telling reporters: ‘I don’t run from problems and challenges’.
The final day of Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry heard the program’s failure was responsible for the deaths of all 768 residents who died in the state’s second wave. Pictured: Security guards at a quarantine hotel
Melbourne’s second wave of coronavirus was sparked in late May when the disease escaped from a quarantine hotel and rapidly spread around the city.
‘The scientific evidence now strongly suggests, and we submit that the board can comfortably find, that 90 per cent of positive cases in Victoria since [26 May] are attributable to that initial outbreak at the Rydges in late May,’ Mr Ihle said.
The Victorian government has been criticised for using private security guards to man the hotels instead of the police and ADF troops like in New South Wales and Queensland.
The inquiry heard the fateful decision to use guards was likely made at a meeting at the state control centre on the afternoon March 27.
But the decision wasn’t made by one person or government department.
Rather, counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard said it was a ‘creeping assumption that became a reality’.
‘While no one person made a decision, by the end of that state control centre meeting, it was understood by all present that that was what was going to happen,’ Ms Ellyard said in her closing submission on Monday.
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien
In that meeting, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Grainger said it was the force’s ‘preference’ that private security be used.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp stepped out of the meeting to take a call from Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton.
Mr Crisp then texted Mr Grainger: ‘I stepped out to speak to Graham and I let him know you’re in this meeting… He made it clear… that private security is the first security option at hotels and not police’.
Ms Ellyard said Victoria Police’s preference was a ‘substantial contributing factor to that creeping consensus’.
‘The expression of a preference can readily be understood to have given the clear impression that police weren’t going to do it and there needed to be an alternative,’ she said.
Ms Ellyard said once the decision had been made, no one in the meeting gave ‘any specific consideration’ to the suitability of private security for the role.
Contracts written up by the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions left infection control and training in personal protective equipment use to the security companies.
Hotels, meanwhile, were responsible for cleaning, unless a returned traveller tested positive to Covid-19.
‘Responsibility for managing the risk of infection and providing for the safety of those involved in the program should have remained with the state. No contract should have purported to outsource those matters,’ Ms Ellyard said.
Counsel assisting Tony Neal QC said there was no suggestion those who set up the program worked other than with ‘the best of intentions and to the best of their ability’.
‘Bad faith or corruption is not what the evidence shows,’ he said.
‘Yet it is true that the hastily assembled program failed at two locations within approximately two and a half months and with disastrous consequences.
‘A multitude of decisions, actions and inaction, many of which compounded the effect of the other, ultimately expressed itself in the outbreaks which subverted the very reason for the existence of a hotel quarantine program.
Hotel quarantine: A timeline
* March 27 – National cabinet announces returned overseas travellers will have 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 use private security guards. The decision is made at a 4:30pm meeting in Victoria’s state control centre.
* March 28 – At another state control centre meeting, Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp says there is no need for ADF ‘boots on the ground’. Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, named Operation Soteria, launches at 11:59pm.
* April 8 – Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens emails Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles to offer ADF assistance.
* April 9 – Public Health Commander Finn Romanes writes to Department of Health and Human Services secretary warning of a ‘risk to the health and safety of detainees’ due to governance issues. Letter backed by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and his deputy Annaliese van Diemen.
* April 11 – Man takes own life while in quarantine at Pan Pacific hotel.
* May 15 – A family of four with COVID-19 are moved to the Rydges on Swanston hotel, a ‘hot’ hotel.
* May 25 – A staff member at the Rydges on Swanston tests positive to COVID-19. Two others develop symptoms.
* May 27 – Rydges on Swanston outbreak first identified by the DHHS. It will grow to 17 people who have either worked at the hotel, or are household members or social contacts.
* June 1 – Stage-three restrictions eased.
* June 14 – Staff member at Stamford Plaza tests positive to COVID-19.
* June 17 – Stamford Plaza outbreak identified by DHHS. The cluster will grow to 46 people.
* June 21 – Further easing of restrictions.
* June 24 – Mr Crisp requests 850 ADF personnel to replace private security at hotels. Request rescinded a day later as the Department of Justice and Community Safety takes over the program.
* June 26 – It’s revealed 30 per cent of travellers in hotel quarantine are refusing tests.
* June 29 – Hot-spot Melbourne suburbs return to lockdown and international flights diverted.
* June 30 – Premier Daniel Andrews announces an inquiry into the hotel quarantine program after genomic sequencing revealed a number of COVID-19 cases can be linked to ‘staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well-known and well-understood infection control protocols’.
* July 4 – Hard lockdown announced at short notice for nine public housing towers. State records 108 new cases – its first day above 100 since late March.
* July 4, July 6, July 11 – As Victorian cases escalate, Prime Minister Scott Morrison writes to Mr Andrews three times offering ADF support.
* July 6 – The Victoria-NSW border shuts for first time in century.
* July 8 – Melbourne and Mitchell Shire go into stage-three lockdown for six weeks.
* July 20 – Hotel Quarantine Inquiry begins.
* August 2 – Victoria records 671 cases and seven deaths. State of disaster declared, stage four restrictions imposed.
* August 5 – Stage four restrictions delay inquiry’s public hearings by two weeks. State records 725 new cases and 15 deaths.
* August 11 – Mr Andrews tells a parliamentary inquiry ADF support was not offered for hotel quarantine, sparking war of words with federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
* August 17 – Public hearings at inquiry begin.
* August 18 – DHHS epidemiologist Charles Alpren tells inquiry 99 per cent of active cases in Victoria stem from Rydges and Stamford outbreaks.
* September 6 – Stage four restrictions extended until October.
* September 25 – Mr Andrews appears before inquiry, apologises for mistakes. The program is responsible for more than 18,000 COVID-19 infections and 750 deaths.
* September 26 – Health Minister Jenny Mikakos resigns.
* September 28 – Inquiry’s closing submissions. Final report due November 6.