A security guard was removed from the Crowne Plaza quarantine hotel after slipping a note under a guest’s door that said “Hey hun, add me on SnapChat”, an inquiry has heard.
The incident led top bureaucrats to contemplate ceasing to use private firm Wilson Security, according to an email chain tendered to the Melbourne hotel quarantine inquiry.
A guest received an “inappropriate” note under her door from a security guard that said words to the effect of “Hey hun, add me on SnapChat”, an email detailing the complaint said.
“She looked up his name and looked up on Facebook and it’s a security guard and wants to complain,” the email said. “[REDACTED] is his name – he took her outside a few days ago for outside time … with 2 other guests … 2 other security guards.”
“I will contact Wilson Security now to have this guard removed,” wrote Paul Xerri, who was responsible for managing security contractors from April 1.
Another public servant noted in the email chain that it was “the second such incident this week and unacceptable”.
“Paul as you would be aware – we have had significant issues with Wilson from day dot,” Global Victoria chief executive officer Gönül Serbest wrote in a later reply.
Ms Serbest asked if it was possible to stop using Wilson Security at the Pan Pacific Hotel, noting that the Crowne Plaza quarantine was due to end shortly.
Mr Xerri replied that he would have to liaise with legal.
“In the meantime I notice that [REDACTED] at Wilson has written to advise that they are working to improve service delivery at Pan Pacific and will have senior management on site this weekend. Hopefully this helps in the interim,” Mr Xerri wrote.
‘SYDNEY HAVE THE ARMY THERE’
Another email chain tendered to the inquiry reveals top bureaucrats at the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions were lobbying the Department of Health and Human Services for a 24/7 police presence at quarantine hotels.
“Sydney have the army there for Pete’s sake,” a senior public servant wrote in response to an incident on March 30.
It was the second day of the quarantine program when an agitated and upset man escaped from his room and evaded officers in a 3am quest for a cigarette.
He was intercepted by the night duty manager for Unified Security, and went back to his room.
Cameron Nolan, executive director of the priority projects unit at the DJPR, was notified of the breach via email.
After confirming the man had been stopped by a private security guard and not police, he wrote: “Great. We’ll use this to bolster our case to DHHS that they should insist on a 24/7 police presence. Sydney have the army there for Pete’s sake.”
COMMS BETWEEN AGENCIES THE WEAK LINK
Gönül Serbest, the CEO of Global Victoria, told the inquiry that the quarantine scheme could have had better communication between government agencies, but other than that, she wouldn’t have done much differently.
Global Victoria managed logistics around the check in and check out process.
“That early set-up in those early days did support the program for a long time,” she said. She said her team included several people who spoke different languages and had lived overseas and could anticipate the needs of passengers, whether it was Mother’s Day or Ramadan.
“On reflection, we could probably look to have better systems of communicating between the agencies in terms of, you know, how guests’ information is shared in terms of interactions with nurses and things like that,” she said.
COPS’ SHOCK HOTEL ADMISSION
Victoria Police backed the plan for private security guards to man Melbourne’s disastrous hotel quarantine program, an inquiry has heard.
Claire Febey, the executive director of the priority projects unit within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) gave evidence to the inquiry into Melbourne’s quarantine hotels on Thursday.
Ms Febey was heavily involved in the initial planning of the hotel quarantine program, which was set up in a hectic 48 hours before the first planeload of passengers arrived.
She said DJPR had contracted private security guards on the request of Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp, but she didn’t know who had made that decision.
Contracting private security firms was presented as a “fait accompli” at a meeting at the State Control Centre on March 27, she said.
Her statement included a part transcript of the meeting, which read:
MR CRISP: I understand the preference of Victoria Police, or the Chief Commissioner, is that private security be the first line of security, and then police to response as required. Is that your understanding, Mick?
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MICK GRAINGER: Yes, it’s Mick Grainger here. Absolutely that’s our preference.
MR CRISP: So just curious as to who’s going to take responsibility around contracting private security? Is that DJPR? Claire?
MS FEBEY: Yes. I understand that that’s for us to take up. So I’d like to have a follow up conversation with Mick (Grainger, Victoria Police) and just understand a little bit more about how he sees that best working, and then we’re happy to make sure that the right arrangements are made, both in hotels and also in exploring what the arrangements might be with the transport as well.
Ms Febey could not recall a follow up conversation between her and Mr Grainger.
Under cross-examination from Joanna Davidson for Victoria Police, Ms Febey said she understood the conversation as a directive to engage private security from Victoria Police, who she viewed as the decision makers on enforcement matters.
Under cross-examination from Dr Kristine Hanscombe, acting for the Department of Justice and Community Safety, Ms Febey said that she wasn’t suggesting Mr Crisp had made the decision to contract guards.
FIRST TO EMAIL GOT THE GIG
Katrina Currie, the executive director of employment at the DJPR, told the inquiry she had learned late on the night of Friday, March 27, that she had to organise private security firms.
The first company to reply to her email on Saturday morning, Unified Security, ended up being hired to work at the first quarantine hotels, she said.
She had sought “large and good” security companies as she began her search, looking for firms that could provide enough staff and also were decent employers.
Three firms ended up being engaged to provide security: Unified, Wilson Security and MSS Security.
Ms Currie said she was not aware that subcontractors were among the Unified staff sent to hotels. “I had understood that they were sending employees,” she said, later adding that she did not realise that subcontracting was a large part of the security industry.
Under cross-examination, Ms Currie said she didn’t recall talking to the firms about subcontracting the security work. She said references in her own notes of conversations with Wilson and MSS were in reference to potential subcontracting in regional areas.
She accepted it was possible that subcontracting had in fact been mentioned in those conversations.
Ms Currie said she advised each firm that their staff would need to undertake the federal government’s COVID-19 training, as well as they would have to ensure an adequate supply of PPE. At the time, PPE was in “short supply”, she said.
Ms Currie said the possibility for hotel quarantine to be an employment program was a “secondary consideration”, made difficult by the time frame.
“Because of the urgency, I had anticipated that people would need to be employed already and stood up quickly. It was a 24-hour window to get people in place,” she said.
DEPARTMENT CLASH OVER PPE
Ms Febey said in her view DJPR staff should have worn PPE at all times while working in the hotels, but DHHS staff pushed back and said non-medical staff should observe social distancing instead to preserve stocks.
PUBLIC SERVANTS IN THE DARK
Public servants were still in the dark about how exactly returned travellers would be legally detained hours before the first planeload arrived to enter hotel quarantine, an inquiry has heard.
Ms Febey said she was told shortly before Premier Daniel Andrews stood to announce the program on March 27 that DJPR would be in charge of the entire operation and that she would take the lead.
Less than 24 hours later, that changed as the Department of Health and Human Services took over. A number of misunderstanding followed in the first few days of the program as the two departments figured out who had responsibility for what, Ms Febey said.
Ms Febey said after a “dry run” of the airport-to-hotel process on the afternoon of March 28, it became clear more clarity was needed about the role of Victoria Police, but it couldn’t be resolved because they didn’t yet have the legal directions for detaining people.
“So people were due to arrive and be detained in a few hours but the complexity of the work was such that there wasn’t clarity about that?” counsel assisting Rachel Ellyard asked.
“Yes,” Ms Febey answered.
WOMAN BEHIND TONE-DEAF AD TO BE GRILLED
The boss behind a tone-deaf ad praising Melbourne’s quarantine hotels is among the public servants who will be grilled today at an inquiry into the bungled scheme.
Gönül Serbest, the chief executive officer of government agency Global Victoria, appeared in an in-house video for the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions in which public servants praised the scheme.
In the video, Ms Serbest said her workers should be proud of the scheme.
“It’s been a really interesting and complex project, but something that I think we will look back and really think about as something that’s been really rewarding, and the fact that we have been able to help slow the spread of coronavirus makes us feel really proud of the work we have been doing,” she says.
Other staff from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions to appear include executive director of the priority projects unit Claire Febey and executive director of employment delivery Katrina Currie.
The inquiry has previously heard the hotel program was set up in 48 hours and had a complex and confusing structure involving a number of departments.
Infectious disease experts testified last week that 99 per cent of current cases in Victoria could be traced back to the quarantine program.
POLICE RAISED ISSUES IN APRIL
Victoria Police raised concerns with the state government about the doomed hotel quarantine program as early as April.
Chief Commissioner Shane Patton told 3AW officers who worked at the infected hotels notified their superiors of serious problems with the level of supervision provided by guards in the “early days” of the scheme.
These reports were given to the Department of Health and Human Services to take action, Mr Patton said.
“I have recently been made aware by looking at material released to the (hotel quarantine) inquiry that some police officers on the ground put a couple of emails through and they went up to our commanders at the North West Metro region who were in charge of our response,” he said.
“(The emails) pointed out some of the supervision from security was inadequate in terms of allowing them exercise and contact.
“That commander of ours notified the DHHS for them to action.
“This was in the early days. The program was stood up in late March, I think we are talking around April.
“We made the control agency very much aware of the concerns at the time.”
— with Aneeka Simonis