Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien tried to hold the Premier to account at Tuesday’s public accounts and estimates committee hearing.

THE Premier Daniel Andrews was shot down in flames for the answers he gave at the state parliament’s public accounts and estimates committee hearing on Tuesday.

And it was our local MP, Danny O’Brien, a long-standing member of that committee, who was asking the hard questions.

Mr O’Brien grilled the Premier over the catastrophic hotel quarantine scandal in the morning and by the afternoon, the Minister for Defence, Senator Linda Reynolds, had come right in behind Mr O’Brien, completely dismantling the Premier’s claims that ADF personnel weren’t available.

Having established that it was a decision of the State Government’s Crisis Council of Cabinet to appoint private security guards without the oversight of police and ADF personnel, Mr O’Brien followed up with the key question:

“So, my question is why did you decide to use private security guards rather than police and ADF?” Mr O’Brien said.

“Well I’m glad you mentioned the use of ADF support, I don’t believe ADF support was on offer. ADF support has been provided in very limited circumstances in New South Wales, not to provide security as such but to provide transportation from the airport to hotels. So again, I think it is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there was hundreds of ADF staff on offer, and somehow someone said no, that’s just not in my judgment what actually happened…” said the Premier.

He continued to be pressed by Mr O’Brien for some minutes.

But the Minister for Defence has since refuted claims by Mr Andrews that no ADF support was on offer:

“Throughout the pandemic the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been postured to respond to requests for support from the states and territories at very short notice. From 21 March 2020, ADF planning teams were established in every state and territory to rapidly facilitate any requests for support,” Minister Reynolds said.

“Following the Prime Minister’s offer on 27 March 2020 for ADF support to states and territories with the new mandatory 14-day quarantine period for international arrivals, the ADF discussed requirements with relevant state and territory authorities.

“On 28 March 2020, Victorian authorities advised that Victoria was not seeking ADF assistance with mandatory quarantine arrangements. The ADF was consistently advised that its assistance was not required for any ‘public facing roles’ in Victoria.

“ADF officials asked whether Victorian authorities required assistance with its mandatory quarantine system on multiple occasions. No request for quarantine support was subsequently received from Victoria at that time.

“On 12 April 2020, Victorian authorities reaffirmed to ADF officials that all quarantine compliance monitoring operations were within Victorian authorities’ capacity.

“Defence agreed to requests for support to quarantine compliance from Queensland and NSW on 28 March.

“In NSW, ADF personnel began supporting the reception of international arrivals at Sydney Airport and undertaking quarantine compliance monitoring at hotels the following day.

“In Queensland, ADF personnel began supporting reception of international arrivals at Brisbane airport the following day, and supported quarantine compliance monitoring at hotels from 31 March.

“On 14 April 2020, the ADF shared observations on best practice quarantine compliance monitoring operations with all state and territory police commissioners, including the success of interagency operations between the ADF and NSW Police.

“On 24 June 2020, Defence agreed to a Victorian Government request for 850 ADF personnel to assist with hotel quarantine compliance. The request was withdrawn by the Victorian Government the following day. The decision to withdraw the request is a matter for the Victorian Government.

“On 3 August 2020, the ADF agreed to provide up to 50 personnel to support Western Australian authorities with support to hotel quarantine.

“Under Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) arrangements, Defence provides assistance to states and territories when requested through Emergency Management Australia. DACC arrangements are predicated on states and territories requesting Defence assistance.”

Mr O’Brien followed up asking why, after the government was warned about the problems within 24 hours of setting up the disastrous hotel quarantine system, it didn’t act.

“Mr Premier on the 14th of July the Age reported a leaked email from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions urgently to DHHS, and Emergency Management Victoria requesting Victoria Police to be present 24/7 at each hotel starting from this evening. It was within 24 hours, and it says we asked the DHHS urgently make that request, as the Control Agency. So, if your government was warned within 24 hours of the program starting that there was a need for police oversight, why didn’t the government respond to that?”

Mr Andrews claimed he hadn’t seen the email in question, nor had he read the front-page report in the Age.

He said he wasn’t going to conduct his own inquiry into such matters, that it was the role of the Judicial Inquiry, conducted by Judge Coate, to get to the bottom of those questions.

Since then, the Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp has made a statement (Wednesday, August 12) which Mr Andrews says “contradicted in pretty clear terms” what the Defence Minister had to say.

Statement from the Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp regarding ADF assistance for hotel quarantine:

“I can confirm that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) were involved in the initial planning of the hotel quarantine program. Representatives of the ADF participated in the Operation Soteria planning and coordination meetings on 27 and 28 March 2020. During these discussions I did not seek nor did representatives of the ADF offer assistance as part of the hotel quarantine program.

“Subsequent communications with the ADF on the 12th and 15th of April did not relate to ADF assistance as part of the program.

“As the Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner I am enormously grateful for all of the assistance our colleagues in the Australian Defence Force have provided as we have responded together to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Premier has since been savaged in the media for the responses he provided to the public accounts and estimates committee.