Health Minister Jenny Mikakos did not know private security were in hotels until after outbreaks

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos did not know private security were in hotels until after outbreaks

September 24, 2020

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has admitted that the first time she knew that private security was being used to guard the state's hotel quarantine detainees was when outbreaks occurred in mid-May in the Rydges on Swanston hotel, almost two months after the program began.

In a testy exchange at Victoria's hotel quarantine inquiry, Ms Mikakos said it was not until those cases among staff and security guards at the Rydges on Swanston that she turned her mind to the role security guards were playing in hotels.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.

The Health Minister also admitted that, even though the Department of Health and Human Services was the lead government agency on the hotels program, she was never consulted on how it was set up and was not involved in or consulted about the initial decisions that were made.

"As the Minister for Health … do you consider you should have been consulted on these things?" asked counsel assisting the inquiry, Ben Ihle.

"With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been desirable if I had been," Ms Mikakos replied.

She becomes the third Andrews government minister after Police Minister Lisa Neville and Jobs Minister Martin Pakula who has admitted to being ignorant about key decisions made in their portfolios during this pandemic.

Ms Mikakos, who came into the commission under heavy fire today from the Health Services Union of Australia, wrote in a statement that she not believe it was her health department’s role to ensure private security guards and other workers in Victoria’s quarantine hotels were adhering to infection control measures such as wearing personal protective equipment.

In hindsight, she said, she would not support the use of private security guards in hotel quarantine.

But pressing Ms Mikakos on her level of knowledge, Mr Ihle said: "Is it your evidence to this inquiry that until the outbreak at Rydges, you didn’t even turn your mind to the question of how people were actually being detained in the hotels?"

"That’s correct," Ms Mikakos replied. "The DHHS provided the legal framework, I understood [DHHS] authorised officers were issuing those travellers with detention notices but I had no reason to be turning my mind to the issue of security guards."

Mr Ihle continued: "What I’m asking you is practically, who was ensuring compliance with … directions. Did you turn your mind to that question at all before Rydges?"

"No I did not … It wasn’t an issue that was brought to my attention," Ms Mikakos admitted.

"And indeed it wasn’t an issue that you even turned your mind to?" Mr Ihle replied.

"That’s correct," Ms Mikakos said.

Security guards were responsible for sparking more than 90 per cent of Victoria's second wave of coronavirus after they caught it while working at the Rydges and Stamford Plaza hotels then took it back into the community.

Ms Mikakos wrote in her statement to the inquiry that she thought the DHHS's role was to provide health and wellbeing services for returned travellers, and to provide a legal framework for returned travellers to be detained.

She also said that by mid-June, she believed there were “too many cooks spoiling the broth” in the hotels program by mid-June and "worked to have all the aspects of the program moved to one department, being the DJCS [Department of Justice and Community Safety]".

At that time, Ms Mikakos wrote that she also asked her department's deputy secretary, Melissa Skilbeck, to draft a new plan for the hotels that included Victoria Police, a small number of Australian Defence Force personnel, Alfred Health and other health services staff, Protective Services Officers officers and Sheriffs.

It comes on the same day an explosive letter was released demanding Premier Daniel Andrews sack Ms Mikakos, claiming locked-down Victorians are paying the price for her incompetence.

Health Workers Union secretary Diana Asmar wrote that Ms Mikakos be ousted for "breathtaking incompetence".

A letter in response from the much larger Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation defended Ms Mikakos, saying she was a "hard-working minister who is across her portfolio".

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