ABC does Melbourne’s hotel quarantine disaster

ABC’s 7.30 Report ran a disturbing segment on Melbourne’s hotel quarantine failures, which are behind the second wave of COVID-19 infections spreading across Victoria into New South Wales and Queensland.

The inquiry into the scandal has so far named six hotels, 10 state government agencies and eight security companies as being of interest to its investigations.

The 7.30 Report obtained a copy of the contract with one of the private security firms tasked with hotel quarantine.

This contract reveals that “the onus was on the security company to provide training, at its own cost, in workplace health and safety and risk management, as well as COVID-19 safety inductions and infection control training before guards started work. The agreement also states that the security company must ensure that guards wear all necessary personal protective equipment at all times”.

Buck passing to private security has been slammed by health experts interviewed by the 7.30 Report.

Here’s Professor Emmanuel Josserand, from the University of Technology:

You can’t rely on the type of workforce that is casualised, under trained and sometimes underpaid as well, to really handle complex house protocols and situations that are as risky and as dangerous as the one we had.

So we know that the industry has had systemic problems with their workforce and in a situation as sensitive as this one, where you have the potential for catastrophic outcome and we know it’s happening. I mean that is the situation, that’s happening in Victoria.

And here’s Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, from the University of NSW:

Outbreak management needs to often be done by outbreak experts to ensure simple things like this don’t happen.

In hindsight, it’s not necessarily the best idea to have the service providers do everything, the compliance checking, because they may not have even realised that they needed to do compliance checking.

Certainly, infection prevention and control experts in hospitals understand that.

A 19 year-old security guard worker also admitted that she received no infection control training when she worked at the Stanford Plaza in May:

We didn’t get any training when I got there. So they just didn’t tell us what training, what we had to do. We just had to put a mask on, put gloves on and that’s it.

They had no training of how to use PPE, how to sanitise, nothing, no training at all.

I got put on a WhatsApp group and would you like to work at this place? And I’m like, “I don’t know what you guys are, what company, nothing else.

Recall the long list of failures already reported by the media:

  • Security companies were being paid for workers that didn’t exist.
  • Lack of guards to properly secure the hotels due to these “phantom” people.
  • Guards were given minimal training (six hours of ­infection control training, some had only 5 mins).
  • Guards not following proper procedure – shaking hands, sharing lifts, sharing lighters, not wearing masks.
  • Guards wore personal protective equipment for up to eight hours without changing it.
  • Some guards let families go between rooms to play cards and games with others.
  • Some guards were sleeping on the job.
  • Some guards slept with guests.
  • Subcontracting guards at cheaper rate instead of standard guards.
  • Subcontracting guards switching shifts between hotels.

Also recall the leaked emails revealing that the Victorian Government knew of problems surrounding hotel quarantine in March but failed to take corrective action:

Top bureaucrats warned senior health officials at the beginning of the Andrews government’s botched hotel quarantine scheme that security guards were ill-equipped for the work and demanded police be called in to take control…

The first email raising concerns was sent by a senior bureaucrat at the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions within 24 hours of the March 28 launch of the program.

It was addressed to several senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which was the leading agency for the day-to-day management of hotel quarantine…

“We request that Victoria Police is present 24/7 at each hotel starting from this evening. We ask that DHHS urgently make that request as the control agency,” the email read…

Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions official sent a second email on March 30 demanding that DHHS request police support, suggesting private security companies were “not adequate” to guard the hotels.

The email recommended DHHS ban quarantined travellers from leaving their rooms for any reason, including exercise.

A top official from Emergency Management Victoria responded to the request by saying police were not required because guards could call triple zero if a situation warranted police involvement…

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on July 3 that the Chief Health Officer was told of similar problems with the hotel quarantine system in mid-April…

Police Minister Lisa Neville said police were not the default agency for the management of the pandemic response in Victoria, as they were in other states…

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald reported earlier this month that at least five agencies were involved in the decision to deploy private security guards, instead of soldiers or police, at quarantine hotels: Health; Jobs; Premier and Cabinet; Emergency Management Victoria; and Victoria Police…

With the virus almost eliminated among the community, quarantine was Australia’s single best defence for stopping COVID-19 from being imported from abroad. It was the one area that our governments needed get right and should have been the number one priority.

Instead, the Victorian Government took the cheap and nasty option and contracted-out vital biosecurity to dodgy private security firms, rather than the Victorian Police or the Department of Corrections, without even issuing proper guidelines or PPE. These firms then used cheap untrained labour hire, resulting in widespread breaches, virus infections and community transmission.

The result is that Melbourne has been shutdown for weeks with no end in sight, with infections running rampant and spreading into other states.

History may look back on this debacle as one of Australia’s biggest and most costly public health disasters.

The Victorian Government must be held accountable.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. Shows how meaningless the “Labor” brand is. Andrews and Pallas have been ecstatically keen for the neoliberal (RBA) nostrum of high population growth to enrich GDP and impoverish locals. In a terrifying urban health crisis with uncertain knowledge, privatisation and outsourcing were still automatic thinking. Josh’s besties, Reagan and Thatcher, have won.

    • Poochie the Rockin DogMEMBER

      They are liberals with sightly better welfare. Shows how a 2 party system gets corrupted over time until there is only one option. I wonder why there’s no formal subject for the study of power, a very large part would have to be on how all institutions eventually become corrupt

  2. The Victorian government is corrupt. The whole hotel security was contracts for donors and affirmative action. The main security company Dan used was Unified Security – “Australia’s Largest Indigenous-Owned Private Security Provider”

    Unified Security did not have enough money for PPE for their guards, but had enough to donate $76,000 to Dan Andrews in 2018.

    This story is a summary of the reasons Australia is third world.

    • Indigenous Owned? What the hell does that mean? Are shares held by all indigenous peoples or are the profits held in trust? Is it 100% indigenous owned by someone who is 100% indigenous or do they 100% identify as indigenous?

      And what about the trans community, when are they getting their own security company?

      Lets be honest, “Australia’s Largest Indigenous-Owned Private Security Provider” can’t be held to the same standard and that’s what this woke banner is advertising.

  3. Watched the video. Easy to be critical. Somewhat sympathetic to how casual security guards (even perhaps security firms) could struggle to implement this given poor training, ambiguity in public announcements by State and Federal Governments over the period, the volatility and randomness of people’s reactions to the virus.

    • I don’t blame the guards. I blame the VIC Government for outsourcing Australia’s best and only defence against the virus to private operators ill-equipped for the job.

      Quarantine is the most important thing governments need to get right. Because you cannot catch a virus that does not exist in the community in the first place. But if you let it be imported in, you end up with the mess we are witnessing in Victoria.

      • I saw the video piece as highlighting the operational weaknesses in security personnel attending to the venues. The whole sad saga is problematic. Your criticism of the Government’s action and outsourcing here are legit.

  4. “The inquiry into the scandal has so far named six hotels, 10 state government agencies and eight security companies as being of interest to its investigations.”

    Yet, I bet, that the preoccupation with privatising critical services and skills and the good old ‘public-private’ neoliberal pork barrel will not be discussed. We are simply not allowed to debate the systemic failure at the core of governance that often come stamped “Commercial in Confidence” in the same way that “non-binding” Memorandums of Understanding with authoritarian states cannot be allowed to see the light of day. Incentivising bad behaviour, inequality and lethal incompetence happens when government becomes indistinguishable from a back room immigration agents and contracting service striking cosy deals with criminal opportunists whilst preoccupied with woke neon flashing signs advertising their virtue.

  5. I’d like questions answered about Labour’s “faceless men” and why the decision was made to go with private security.
    Anything to do with union power and money perhaps?

  6. Forrest GumpMEMBER

    This would NEVER have happened if the unions were involved.
    The unions would have rightly demanded competency based training for staff and ensured safety equipment was not only supplied, but employees trained and were competent in its use.

    The casualisation of the workforce, the systematic elimination of union representation in the workplace has asisted to our current demise.

    Look all around us, not only in this instance, but look at the telecommunications industry whereby getting s simple fault fixed on your NBN becomes a never ending story of incompetent contractors tripping over their own shoe laces looking for faults.

    Look at the energy industry where we have separate competing private industries and contractors pushing the electrons from someones generator in Latrobe Valley, via a separately owned and operated transmission line network whence those electrons are then on-sold to a Pole & wires retailer whom again uses the cheapest contracted imported labour to maintain the customer interface. Every one of the Big biz along the circuit clips the ticket at the cheapest lowest cost for the highest profit with no regard to quality, reliability or future proofing the needs of the public.

    Same applies to the gas cartel.

    Lets not even mention the privatisation of nursing homes that no longer employ qualified nurses but use casual (Mostly) non-English speaking immigrants on low wages termed aged care workers

    @ MB: Don’t point just one finger at the Vic government. Point the Lock Stock & 2 smoking barrels of the Sherman Tank at the system thats been dismantled by right wing in favor of their political donors

    • frag outMEMBER

      A bit optimistic there. I would guess someone attempted to define the required competencies but failed to fully appreciate a non-BAU context during a pandemic. Would any union have picked that up? Would they have had time? Was there time?
      Maybe it would have been signed off and basic training then provided via online induction done on the spot. More ticking. If someone with any nous had performed a risk assessment or JSEA they may have appreciated the consequence of a “getting it wrong” event being realised. It would have been a screaming red *extreme* stop work/down tools immediately until the risk is mitigated. Basic training would not have cut it. Competency based training would not have cut it. And just maybe, those that did that assessment also knew that by going down that path things might not move as quickly as desired/or at all, and so other choices were made. I’m sure that never happens.

  7. So, the conclusion is it was mainly the fault of the private companies, like I suspected. Luckily the infection numbers in Vic peaked yesterday and are on the nosedive. Well done, Dan.

    • That’s a weird reading of the facts. The finger should be pointed at the idiots that outsourced this vital function and then ignored the warnings about systemic failures.

  8. my sharonaMEMBER

    Labor Liberal doesn’t matter but I really find it a bit galling after listening to 35 years of neoliberal dogma that the private sector works best that we think we can blame the government. Where are all the young, well-paid, mergers and acquisitions boys today, on this topic??

  9. Surely the Feds get some of the blame as well. Quarantine is a Federal responsibility. If they outsourced to the States then fine but they needed to have the right oversight themselves.

      • Offers are one thing but if the Feds were unhappy with the alternative they should have knocked it on the head. It is their ultimate responsibility.

        Not excusing Andrews mind you.

  10. do not worry them academics will still vote labor (or possibly Greens?). Me Im increasingly happy with my requests for King George

  11. ignoratio elenchiMEMBER

    In Victoria, everything is outsourced. If it wasn’t outsourced it wouldn’t have been done at all. What is being debated here is the contractual nature of that outsourcing.

    I suspect that the investigation will determine that those instructions were supplied by procurement officers – again probably outsourced, with no input from health. Those officers will have there fixed term contracts expired. No one will lose their jobs.

    No ministers will lose their jobs either.

  12. This has zero to do with security guards. This is a governmental disaster at all levels to even assume a security guard is capable of doing anything to enforce the Quarantine. Security guards are token pretend police with no powers. Often are not Australian, young and basically useless. If you have ever been to a music festival you will know what I mean.

  13. elasticMEMBER

    Dan mentioned today that nearly a quarter of those with Covid, self quarantining were not at home when police checked. I’m starting to think that welding people shut in their homes has some merit.