Hotel quarantine inquiry scrutinises dodgy $30m private security contract

Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry has turned its attention to the dodgy $30 million contract awarded to Unified Security – a tiny security firm of only 89 permanent employees that wasn’t even on the Victorian Government’s preferred supplier list:

More than a dozen key internal emails from Victoria’s jobs department relating to hotel quarantine have been completely blacked out after the department made a claim to the Board of Inquiry that communications about the appointment of Sydney-based security firm Unified should be redacted.

However, the evidence that is available suggests the department’s senior officials disagreed strongly over the decision to use Unified, which ended up with the bulk of the security work, including at the Rydges on Swanston, the source of the biggest outbreak of COVID-19.

The redacted emails reveal the disagreement was because Unified was not on the department’s preferred list of tenderers…

Unified won the bulk of hotel quarantine work in Melbourne, earning more than $30 million in less than four months. But guards working for the company were infected with COVID-19 in the Rydges on Swanston, which has been linked to at least 90 per cent of cases in Victoria’s second coronavirus wave.

The Department of Justice, Precincts and Regions has claimed legal privilege over a number of emails created in early April, just days after the quarantine program began. A lot of them have therefore been redacted. The emails involve correspondence between the department’s legal and procurement teams, which became involved after it was discovered Unified was not on the government’s panel of pre-approved security suppliers.

They also show a highly political element to the selection of security companies. Notes of a meeting between senior official Katrina Currie, department secretary Simon Phemister, deputy secretary Alex Kamenev and another official on March 28 show that Mr Kamenev was given the task of asking Trades Hall for its view of a number of security firms.

Earlier this month, Sky News’s Peta Credlin did a terrific job exposing the impropriety of this contract:

Ms Credlin uncovered how security firm Unified Security CEO David Millward sent an email to employees on March 27 at midday to complete the federal government’s COVID training by 2:30pm.

On that day, National Cabinet met to discuss hotel quarantine, which was eventually announced by the prime minister at 2:30.

Unified Security – without being on the preferred tenders list – was given a $30 million three-month contract later that night to start immediately.

Ms Credlin outlined how Unified Security was given the job as she found in evidence a secret WhatsApp group called ‘Working with the Vic A Team’ which at 10:30pm featured a message that confirmed the firm for the job.

“We can’t see what was said that made Unified so critical to include – against all the Victorian Government rules – because that’s been redacted from evidence, but it must have been good because here’s the response – ‘OK, Unified are in,’” said Ms Credlin.

“Clearly someone on that Friday, at that time, was close enough to Millward to have his private mobile.

“Who is the person, why did they have this mobile number and did they use at any time earlier in the day – earlier in the day – when they knew, via Chris Eccles, what was coming out of the National Cabinet meeting?”

This dodgy deal was responsible for seeding Victoria’s damaging virus second wave.

The hotel quarantine inquiry must, therefore, get to the bottom of why this $30 million contract was granted to Unified Security without going through proper procurement channels. It must also determine who within the government made was behind the deal.

Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) should also investigate this deal.

Unconventional Economist
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Comments

  1. Can someone here with a legal background explain how govt documents pertaining to the internal actions of a govt department can be withheld under ‘legal privilege by government lawyers from a govt inquiry…….?

    • Gladys can tell you how: Feed the documents through a shredder, and wipe the emails.
      Simples! No legal degree required here.

      • That doesn’t answer the query at all. What Gladys did was improper but doesn’t absolve or exonerate the hotel quarantine debacle. It is possible to find Novotel major parties repellent unless you are a rusted-on.

      • This would be a nothing-burger if the corruption was north of the border.

        Hello Ruby-Dutton! Has anyone actually worked out what ABF is responsible for yet?

        What about the fact that the federal government failed to prepare the aged care sector for COVID-19? Where most of the deaths were for VIC. Their ‘plan’ was another announcement.

        • Corruption should never be a nothing burger.

          I get it, some other things were glossed over. I don’t like that, not one bit. It also doesn’t justify ignoring this bit of corruption too, if it was indeed corruption.

        • Agree. Seems like yet another LNP witch hunt. Quite likely something improper happened here, but it seems the Fed’s rorting is being glossed over in favour of hounding Vic labor.

          Feds: Nothing to see here…look over there…

  2. Damn, nothing specifically to pin on a single individual in the Andrew’s government yet but where there’s smoke there’s fire. Credlin is doing a great Poirot on this one. Even if they can’t nab anyone via the RC or some other legal process the voters of Victoria should use the power of democracy to sack these grubs for the pain they inflicted.

  3. Add this to your List of the failures of privatisation, unconventional economist.
    It corrupts the public service who become politicised. Need to restore PS independence.