No one individual made the disastrous decision to use private security guards in Victoria’s hotel quarantine scheme, but it was instead a “creeping consensus” that became a reality without anyone questioning it, counsel assisting the inquiry into the program Rachel Ellyard says.
Several leading bureaucrats, politicians and police officers have appeared before the inquiry, and none have been able to pinpoint who decided to use guards.
In her closing submissions to the inquiry, Ms Ellyard narrowed down the timing of the decision to a state control centre meeting at 4.30pm on March 27, the day before the program kicked off.
“By the end of that first state control centre meeting, the creeping consensus was everyone’s and while no one person made a decision, by the end of that state control centre meeting, it was understood by all present that that was what was going to happen,” she said.
“It was a creeping assumption that became the reality. And the absence of clarity, certainty and active engagement with that question on whether it was appropriate or not has to be understood as a failure of decision-making.”
As a result, no one then took ownership of the decision when problems quickly arose around infection control, training and supervision of guards.
“As the Hotel Quarantine Program developed and the roles allocated to private security evolved, no one turned their mind to whether they remained a suitable workforce because no one understood themselves to have made the decision about their use in the first play,” she said.
“So that is where this decision becomes crucial and the absence of an owner of the decision turns out to be so potentially dangerous to the success of this program.”
The barrister said that while Victoria Police did not make the decision, their preference that private guards be deployed “strongly influenced” their use.
“Their preference became the outcome,” she said.
Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton previously told the inquiry he did not make any recommendation for private security, despite Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp telling a colleague after the meeting that Mr Ashtom had said they should be “the first security option”.
Ms Ellyard said that Mr Ashton may have “misremembered” the meeting’s events.