16 Sep Victoria received ADF quarantine offer in April
Hannah Wootton – The Australian Financial Review – Wednesday 16 September
The Australian Defence Force offered Victoria’s most senior public servant help to guard quarantine hotels as early as April, contradicting claims repeated by Premier Daniel Andrews.
A federal government statement tendered to the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry showed Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens emailed Victorian counterpart Chris Eccles offering help on April 8.
“On the question of assistance with security, I am advised that the only deal with NSW was in-kind provision of ADF personnel.
I am sure the Commonwealth would be willing to assist Victoria if you wanted to reconsider your operating model,” Mr Gaetjens wrote. Mr Eccles replied: “Thanks Phil”.
Mr Andrews told a parliamentary inquiry in August he did not believe ADF services were offered for the program and has stood by that statement despite federal MPs disputing it.
Under Victoria’s hotel quarantine model, private security guards watched over returned travellers instead of ADF or police personnel.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote to Mr Andrews on July 4, 6 and 11, reaffirming federal government willingness to provide ADF support if needed, the submission said. But Mr Andrews yesterday stayed firm that ADF support was never offered for Victoria’s hotel quarantine.
“The Prime Minister’s representations to the inquiry – I’ll leave that to the inquiry to make recommendations and findings about that,” Mr Andrews said.
The Premier will appear before the inquiry next Wednesday. “I’m not interested in having a debate with the Prime Minister, or anyone else frankly, from his party.
“What I would say to you is my comments are consistent, my comments are accurate, my comments are supported by statements issued by Andrew Crisp as the emergency management commissioner.”
James Paterson, deputy chair of the COVID-19 Senate select committee, said Mr Gaetjens’ email was “the smoking gun”. “There can now be no denying Victoria was offered ADF assistance for hotel quarantine and the Andrews government turned it down,” the Liberal senator said.
“Daniel Andrews owes every Victorian a full and honest explanation for this catastrophic error of judgment,” Mr Paterson said.
Mr Crisp said he did not believe ADF assistance was needed in the hotels when Mr Gaetjens offered it in April.