Victoria Police wanted security guards in quarantine hotels, inquiry told

The Victorian public servant who set up the state's ill-fated quarantine hotels program has told the inquiry into the debacle that said she wanted police, and not private security, to take the lead role in guarding the hotels.

The inquiry was also told on Thursday that health department officials wanted minimal use of protective gear at the quarantine hotels to conserve supplies of PPE and wanted workers to protect themselves with social distancing in most circumstances.

Senior jobs department bureaucrat Claire Febey.

Senior jobs department bureaucrat Claire Febey said Victoria Police were not interested in taking the lead security role in the hotels and suggested that private contractors should be hired to do the work instead.

Ms Febey also told the inquiry of the confusion surrounding the establishment of the program with 'contestability' about who was in charge and that she asked for clarity about which department, jobs or health, would be leading the effort.

The Executive Director of Priority Projects for the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions told the inquiry on Thursday morning that just hours before the first planes carrying returned travellers were due to touch down at Tullamarine, the bureaucrats running the quarantine program were still not clear on the legal basis of detaining travellers in the hotels.

The $3 million inquiry, led by retired judge Jennifer Coate, was set up by the state government after hotels used for quarantine – Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza – were identified by genomic testing as the source of Victoria's second wave of COVID-19 which has cost hundreds of lives and forced Melbourne into tough stage four restrictions.

Ms Febey said the Department of Health and Human Services had firmly taken control of the program by Sunday, March 29, leaving DJPR as a 'support agency' with responsibility for hiring security and cleaners.

But with the benefit of hindsight, Ms Febey told the inquiry, it may have been better if DHHS was in charge of the contracting arrangements.

She said there was still uncertainty in mid-April – when she stopped working on the quarantine program – about which of the two departments were responsible for directing the private security guards working in the hotels.

She was initially told she would be in charge of setting up the program on March 27, however, as the day went on she understood there was going to be a meeting with multiple agencies involved.

Ms Febey said it was in that meeting that she first became aware of what view Victoria Police held about what their role would be.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp and Victoria Police Commander Mick Grainger were both in the meeting, she said.

"Was that the point, as you describe in your statement … it was Victoria Police's preference that private security be the first line of security?" counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard asked.

"That's right," Ms Febey replied.

Ms Febey said Victoria Police saw its role as being there for the entry and exit of returned travellers and 'perimeter and proximity' patrols to and to respond to incidents in quarantine.

The hearing continues.

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