Explosive video lays hotel quarantine fiasco bare

 

The bureaucrats in charge of the catastrophic hotel quarantine scheme boasted they were treating it as a "massive inbound super trade mission" in a bizarre in-house video which reveals they were given little more than 24 hours to set it up.

The self-congratulatory video, filmed in late April and leaked to the Herald Sun, provides the first real insight into how public servants with no experience in public health were tasked with managing a program which ultimately ­fuelled the coronavirus's deadly second wave.

Played to Department of Jobs, Precincts and the Regions staff on April 24, it features top public servants detailing the key role in the program of Global Victoria - the agency which manages the state's overseas trade missions.

Global Victoria chief Gonul Serbest, presenting the reel, boasts: "The fact that we have been able to help slow the spread of coronavirus makes us feel really proud of the work we have been doing."

The scheme, which at the time had been running for four weeks, is now the subject of a judicial inquiry amid claims of widespread security failings - including guests being let out on shopping trips, moving between rooms and even being intimate with guards.

CEO Global Victria Gonul Serbest in a video celebrating the success of the now botched hotel quarantine system
CEO Global Victria Gonul Serbest in a video celebrating the success of the now botched hotel quarantine system

The video also reveals the job of leading the entire hotel quarantine team was given to a bureaucrat from Agriculture Victoria who admitted the job had required them "to navigate through a process none of us had ever done before".

It shows that in addition to Agriculture Victoria and Global Victoria, staff from Regional Roads Victoria and even the National Gallery of Victoria were pressed into the quarantine program.

And it explains how, after a decision by National Cabinet on Friday, March 27, to create a hotel quarantine system, staff from DJPR had little more than 24 hours to set it up before passengers began arriving.

In the videos, Ms Serbest says hotel quarantine had been "a really interesting and complex project" which those involved would look back on as being "really rewarding".

"We've been able to really lean in and use the passionate empathy that the Global Victoria team has to be able to provide a really great service to all of those people who are going through quarantine," she says.

Screengrabs from a video produced by state Government agency Global Victoria
Screengrabs from a video produced by state Government agency Global Victoria

Public servants talk to camera in hotels and warehouses about what a great job they are doing, including organising warehouse and supermarket deliveries, providing concierge services at 16 hotels and managing travel logistics.

Ms Serbest explains they were using their skills in stakeholder management to ensure things ran smoothly. "We have been thinking about this as one massive inbound super trade mission, which just keeps rolling," she says.

Ms Serbest thanks colleagues who arranged for dates to be dropped to people celebrating Ramadan, while a colleague talks about getting chilli flakes for a pregnant woman.

It is understood some staff were embarrassed by the promo-video pulled together in the middle of a crisis consuming all their time and energy.

An inquiry overseen by former judge Jennifer Coate is now looking at the quarantine set-up, including why police and defence force personnel were not mobilised.

Last week, Premier Daniel Andrews said it was clear COVID-19 had spread from hotels but he couldn't say who was in charge of the scheme, with multiple agencies involved.

 

 

This is why, he said, he called the inquiry.

The minister in charge of DJPR is Martin Pakula, who has previously said he didn't want to comment about the ­inquiry and would "let the inquiry do its work".

Other cabinet members, including Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and Police Minister Lisa Neville, have also declined to provide detailed answers about their roles.

Mr Andrews said last week he would take responsibility for errors exposed during the inquiry.

He faces a parliamentary committee on Tuesday over his government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

The troubled hotel scheme is likely to be a key focus of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing.

Opposition government waste spokesman James Newbury said the video "proves the Premier has been lying and knew for months who left the quarantine door open".

 

The Stamford Plaza hotel was used to quarantine returned travellers. Picture: Jay Town
The Stamford Plaza hotel was used to quarantine returned travellers. Picture: Jay Town

 

"Victorians have tragically died and thousands are sick because of the government's failure. The Premier needs to stop lying and covering up," he said.

Paul Stagg, a director of trade at Global Victoria, described the process after National Cabinet signed off on the policy on Friday, March 27.

"On Saturday (March 28) Global Victoria and many other people throughout JPR (Department of Jobs, Precincts and Resources) received a call and by the early hours of Sunday we were accepting people into hotels."

Kat Cini, who is a director at Global Victoria, said the phrase "that escalated quickly" had "taken on an entirely different meaning" after she took part in the scheme.

More than 6000 people stayed at hotels overseen by the bureaucrats, in the first month of the program.

A government spokeswoman said the hotel quarantine program was established in "quick time" after a decision taken by the National Cabinet.

 

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Originally published as Explosive video lays hotel quarantine fiasco bare


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