National

Ashton links premier to hotel quarantine

By AAP Newswire

Victoria's former top cop claims he was told private security would be used in hotel quarantine as part of a "deal set up" by Premier Daniel Andrews' office.

A text message exchange between the then-Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw reveals the Department of Premier and Cabinet may have played a role in the fateful decision.

"Mate. Question. Why wouldn't AFP Guard people At The hotel??" Mr Ashton wrote to Mr Kershaw on the afternoon of March 27.

Ten minutes later Mr Ashton sent a follow-up text message: "Mate. My advise (sic) is the ADF do passenger transfer and private security will be used."

"Ok that's new," Mr Kershaw replied.

"I think that's the deal set up by our DPC (Department of Premier and Cabinet). I understand NSW will be a different arrangement," Mr Ashton said.

The text messages were shown to Victoria's hotel quarantine inquiry on Thursday.

"I don't remember where I got that or who I got that from," Mr Ashton, who retired from the top job in June, told the inquiry.

In his written statement to the inquiry, Mr Ashton said he did not know whose idea it was to use private security guards. But it was not his.

He suggests it was Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles who made the recommendation about 1:20pm on March 27, just minutes before his text message exchange with Mr Kershaw.

An email written by Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent on March 28 was also shown to the inquiry, which links the Department of Premier and Cabinet to the plans.

"The CCP (Chief Commissioner of Police Graham Ashton) advised me ... that the agreed position at this stage is private security will be employed for this health intervention," Mr Nugent wrote.

"DPC also rang me about this late last night and confirmed that was the arrangement."

He said the Australian Defence Force could be brought in if any increased risks or issues were identified.

The inquiry has heard security guards caught COVID-19 from returned travellers in hotel quarantine, leading to the state's second devastating wave of coronavirus.

Hundreds of Victorians have since died from the virus, thousands are out of work and millions remain under the nation's toughest lockdown.

Mr Ashton's evidence contradicts that of Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp, who appeared at the inquiry on Tuesday.

Mr Crisp said it was the chief commissioner's preference that private guards be the first line of security, while there was no need for ADF "boots on the ground".

The current Chief Commissioner Shane Patton also appeared before the inquiry on Thursday.

He said he had no issue with the use of private security guards in the program.

"Properly trained, governed, supervised private security work very well with police on many occasions," Mr Patton said.

Jason Helps, a state controller leading the state's pandemic response, said he wasn't sure the presence of Victoria Police or the ADF in the program would have prevented the second wave.

"Whilst I didn't make those decisions, I'm not sure that we can be certain that having them in the program wouldn't have contributed to other issues," the former police officer told the inquiry.

Andrea Spiteri, who shared the state controller role with Mr Helps, said with hindsight a more visible police presence was needed at the hotels.

"A 24/7 police presence at quarantine hotels may have been helpful in setting an example for security staff as to appropriate behaviour," her statement read.

The inquiry heard security guards working in hotel quarantine did not receive instructions on how to use personal protective equipment until May 12, six weeks after the program began on March 29.

The inquiry continues on Friday.