‘Who’s in charge?’ Day by day, meeting by meeting

Friday, March 27.

Midday National cabinet decides to enforce mandatory quarantine for international arrivals to Australia.

1.12pm Victoria Police's then-chief commissioner Graham Ashton to Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw: “Mate. Question. Why wouldn’t AFP guard people at the hotel??”

1.16pm Ashton texts Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles: “Chris I am getting word from Canberra for a plan whereby arrivals from overseas are to be subjected to enforced isolation from tomorrow. The suggestion is Victorian arrivals are conveyed to a hotel somewhere where they are guarded by police for 14 days. Are you aware of anything in this regard?? Graham”

1.22pm Ashton texts Kershaw: “Mate my advise [sic] is that ADF will do passenger transfer and private security will be used.”

1.32pm: Ashton texts Kershaw: “I think that’s the deal set up by our DPC. I understand NSW will be a different arrangement. I spoke to Mick F [NSW Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller].”

2pm Meeting between Ashton, Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp, Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville. Crisp notes: “Private security” and “ADF”. Ashton notes: “Private security, “Police back up”, “ADF”

2.17pm Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces that states and territories will quarantine all airport arrivals in “hotels and other accommodation facilities” from 11.59pm on Saturday, March 28. “We will be supporting them also by providing members of the Australian Defence Force to assist in the compliance with these arrangements.”

3.11pm Premier Daniel Andrews announces hotel quarantine. “Police, private security all of our health team will be able to monitor compliance in a much easier way in a static location, one hotel or a series of hotels as the case may be.”

4pm Victorian Secretaries Board (VSB) meeting. Ashton and Eccles present. In notes of the meeting, GA (Ashton) writes: Challenge will be static presence over a long period of time – will end up with some private contractor or else ADF ideally – CE [Eccles] I assume a private contractor.

4.30pm First hotel quarantine meeting. Tele-conference between Crisp, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions executive Claire Febey, Assistant Commissioner Mick Grainger, ADF Colonel John Molnar and others. In the transcript of the recorded meeting Crisp says: The ADF will be doing just exactly what they're doing at the moment, helping us to plan for this particular operation. So at this stage we don't see a need for boots on the ground, so to speak.

5.20pm Crisp texts Grainger: “I stepped out to speak to Graham and I let him know you're in this meeting as he's only just come out of VSB. He made it clear in VSB that private security is the first security option at hotels/hotels and not police."

Transcript of meeting:

  • Crisp: Sorry, John, can we get – again, apology, I missed, I had to step out again – but in terms of security at accommodation, have we covered that? Is it private security, Victoria Police? I understand that the preference of Victoria Police or the chief commissioner is that private security be the first line of security and police to respond as required. Is that your understanding, Mick?
  • Grainger: “Yes. It's Mick Grainger here. Absolutely that's our preference.
  • Crisp: So I'm just curious as to who's going to take responsibility around contracting private security? Is that DJPR [Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions]? Claire?”
  • Febey: Yes, I understand that's for us to take up. So I'd like to have a follow-up conversation with Mick and just to 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 for exploring what the arrangements might be for transport as well.

10.11pm WhatsApp messages between Jobs Department staff finding security firms to supply guards: “Unified had just received all of the contracts for woolies, Dan Murphy’s, bws and fourth in the chain in reg vic. So growing and showing capability. Plus doing a lot in inclusion pre working with us. I’d add to list.”

Saturday, March 28

6.15pm State Control Centre meeting between Crisp, the ADF’s John Molnar and the other agencies running hotel quarantine. The transcript reads:

  • Crisp: Jason touched on it before in terms of who's in charge. It is the Department of Health and Human Services for this operation because, as I said, it fits in with the state's structure and under the State Controller – Health.
  • Crisp: And every operation needs a name. It's only a little thing but it's important. So this will be Operation Soteria. It is spelt S-O-T-E-R-I-A. So in Greek mythology, Soteria was the goddess or spirit of safety and salvation, deliverance and preservation from harm. So I thought that was quite appropriate. Well done, Jason, you win the prize for the best name of an operation.
  • Crisp: ADF, anything further that you wish – might wish to raise?
  • Molnar: No, Andrew. Just noting that the news tonight mentioned that 30 ADF will be patrolling the corridors of hotels. Not in Victoria.

6.40pm Email from Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent to Grainger and then-Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton. “The CCP advised me of this last evening and his discussions with VSB. He advised me that the agreed position at this stage is private security will be employed for this health intervention. We agreed CBD motels would make it easier for police response should we be called, which he advised Andrew (I understand). DPC also rang me about this late last night and confirmed that was the arrangement discussed at VSB. I did suggest, if increased risks/issues were identified, ADF could have a role in this regard."

March 29.

9am First group of returned travellers placed in quarantine. A Defence Minister media release reads: The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has deployed teams across the country to work in partnership with state and territory law enforcement agencies to conduct COVID-19 quarantine compliance checks. The ADF will provide logistics support for the state and territory police as they enforce mandatory quarantine and isolation measures. The ADF is working with other state and territory authorities to determine their support requirements and stand ready to provide that support at short notice.

8.02pm Email from Claire Febey, Jobs Department, to deputy state controller Chris Eagles and state controller Jason Helps: “Can I please request urgent action by DHHS to resolve four issues [on the] presence of Vic Pol and DHHS at our Crown Promenade and Crown Metropole (and future properties) overnight. We request that Victoria Police is present 24/7 at each hotel, starting from this evening … Private security contractors have no powers to exercise and have been instructed only to monitor and escalate issues to Victoria Police. Thus a permanent presence is necessary rather than patrols or an on-call presence both immediately and for the duration of quarantine. DJPR has no powers to negotiate this so request this is urgently managed by DHHS.”

April 8

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, email to Eccles: On the question of assistance with security, I am advised 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. Eccles replies: thanks Phil.

April 9

4.54pm Deputy Public Health Commander Finn Romanes email to state controllers Andrea Spiteri and Chris Eagles. Copied in are DHHS commanders, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and then-deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen: “There appears to be a lack of a unified plan for this program, and there is considerable concern that the lead roles have not had an opportunity to be satisfied there is a policy and set of processes to manage the healthcare and welfare of detainees, for whom this program is accountable. There are now a considerable complexity and considerable risk that unless governance and plan issues are addressed there will be a risk to the health and safety of detainees.”

7.01pm Dozens of suspected COVID cases coming from a flight from Uruguay. Health Department Secretary Kym Peake email to van Diemen, deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck and Sutton: “Premier has requested that we use a hotel that is close to the airport, not in the CBD. If possible could we say tonight which hotel that would be?”

7.44pm Skilbeck to Spiteri, van Diemen: “We have one contracted hotel who is ready and willing and able to accept COVID-positive guests – Rydges Swanston Street. At this late stage of planning it would be risky to seek to convince another hotel to contract to take such guests. Regards, Melissa.”

April 11

5.30pm Authorised officer, nurse and security guard break into a room in the Pan Pacific and find a returned traveller deceased. Suspected suicide. Peake refers the death to Safer Care Victoria to undertake a review.

April 13

6pm Elderly returned traveller hospitalised after ambulance cancelled by medical staff in hotel 24-hours earlier. The COVID-positive man required intubation in intensive care.

April 14

Another security complaint to DJPR. “I have guest [redacted] Crown Plaza 813 that has received an inappropriate note under her door from a security guard. The note said something like ‘Hey hun, add me on snapchat’ she looked up his name and looked up on Facebook and it’s a security guard and wants to complain”

May 1

10.41am Safer Care Victoria’s Professor Euan Wallace investigating two incidents in quarantine. Email to Skilbeck: “Melissa We are working through reviews of some key incidents in the hotels. The reviews are throwing up a number of issues, not wholly unexpectedly, including the fundamental question regarding “overall responsibility”. In essence, who is responsible for the quarantined detainees. There is not a consensus on this and lack of consensus/clarity fundamentally undermines governance and decisions … May I see your advice? Euan.”

May 5

Infection Prevention Australia review into use of PPE across all hotels identified overuse of PPE and hand hygiene as main areas of non-compliance by workforces.

May 18

Quarantine detainee (Stamford Plaza) Liliana Ratcliff lodges complaint on DHHS website. “We are more likely to catch COVID-19 by being lock in a hotel with other returned travellers than if we were allowed to quarantine at home … I am concerned about the nurses travelling room to room with the same car, the same face masks etc … I want my concerns to be answered by a senior health worker with experience in healthcare. These are genuine concerns as both a human being, and a health professional.”

May 21

9.21pm Health Department Commander Merrin Bamert responds to issues raised by Safer Care officials from April incidents.“This operation was being managed out of a range of sites with no clear operational structure…”

May 26

First case of COVID-19 from a hotel employee at the Rydges on Swanston. Second case is a security guard, tested the same day. Minister Mikakos’ office is notified.

May 27

Outbreak squad finds the hotel and security staff’s comprehension about hand hygiene, PPE and infection prevention control was poor.

June 4

Quarantined travellers are moved from Rydges, hotel is shut down until end of June.

June 27

Prominent human rights lawyer Hugh de Krester among first returned travellers to be detained in re-opened Rydges. Room is unclean. Finds plastic gloves and face mask near the bed, food crumbs on floor and stains on doonas.

July 14

Rydges outbreak report: “There is a high risk of transmission from COVID-positive cases being detained in the hotel to the staff members working at the hotel. This is due to the inadequate education and cleaning procedures that are currently in place. The cleaning duties of communal areas were the responsibility of staff; specifically, for the elevators used to transport COVID-positive cases. Because of this, there is a high likelihood of fomite spread from poor cleaning products being utilised, poor PPE used by security staff, and a lack of education surrounding cleaning practices. At-risk populations include staff members from the hotel, DHHS staff, nurses, and various other HCWs [healthcare workers] that were on site to attend to the people in hotel detention. Outside of the hotel, there has been onward household transmission to partners and housemates.”

June 17

Notification of first Stamford Plaza COVID-19 case, a security guard. Public health interim report finds hotel personnel and security contractors received no adequate education in hand hygiene and PPE, and records physical distancing breaches by guards. Outbreak squad finds these issues increased or didn’t sufficiently guard against the risk of COVID-19 transmission.


Health Minister Jenny Mikakos requests her department find alternative workforce to security guards.

June 24

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp requests 850 ADF personnel.

June 25

Request rescinded. Neville text to Crisp after finding out on newspaper front page: "The use of army in hotels? That was not agreed at CCc [Crisis Council of Cabinet] yesterday but is that what we [sic] doing? And what will they be doing?"

June 27

Crisis Council of Cabinet submission: “Incidents of non-compliance with infection prevention and control any physical distancing requirements, particularly from security contractors, have resulted in outbreaks in hotel quarantine." The CCc decides Corrections Victoria staff will replace guards and full responsibility for hotel quarantine transferred to the Department of Justice and Community Safety.

June 30

Premier announces suspension of international flights arriving in Melbourne from July 2.

July 2

Premier announces inquiry into the hotel quarantine program. “It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened,” Andrews said. Justice [Jennifer] Coate is one of Australia’s most experienced jurists – every Victorian can be confident that she will oversee a thorough and independent inquiry to deliver the answers that Victorians deserve.”

July 10

DELWP staff pulled out of hotel quarantine due to safety concerns. Email from department official to DHHS: "Until further notice, no other DELWP staff members are available for rostering in [Operation] Soteria."

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