There has been a lot of reporting on the Hotel Quarantine Program in Victoria and this reporting has been vital because it ensures the public is aware of the full facts. However some of the coverage and social media commentary has been inaccurate or misleading. Unified Security provides this update to ensure our staff, clients and the wider public have access to the facts.
Were security guards responsible for the outbreak?
Certainly not, because we were never in charge of infection control.
This was the responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under the Operation Soteria Plan.
Security guards provide security services, they don’t run infection control programs.
No one escaped the quarantine. No one left quarantine without authorisation. We did our job well in accordance with the brief.
The clear evidence from the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry is that the primary cause of the outbreak was the appalling lack of infection control protocols in the hotels and the confused and ineffective governance structure that meant no one knew who was in charge.
The Government treated it as a logistics exercise, rather than a critical health response.
Police or ADF staff would have been just as vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 in the environment that DHHS set up and oversaw at the Quarantine Hotels.
Nurses who have years of training in infection control have fallen victim to outbreaks at hospitals. Nurses also contracted the disease in the hotel quarantine including a nurse at the Rydges Hotel.
Current DHHS data shows 3,577 healthcare workers in Victoria have been infected, of which 72% (2,575) were acquired in a healthcare setting.
COVID-19 does not discriminate. It does not pick and choose which uniforms it will infect.
DHHS failed to adequately consider and assess the risks involved in the Program and to take responsibility for the Program as the control agency.
The Public Health Command had no input or line of sight as to what infection control measures were appropriate or in place before the outbreak at Rydges occurred.
Had a proper risk assessment been conducted, by those with the relevant expertise, the outbreak may have been prevented or the risk significantly reduced.
The security guards and hotel workers were placed at an increased level of risk because of the failure of DHHS to discharge its duty of care including statutory obligations owed under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).
The Inquiry heard the virus was most likely transmitted from a surface or through air droplets. Cleaning of surfaces or ventilation in a hotel was not the responsibility of a security company.
Rather than accept responsibility for this failure, the Victorian Government through various Departments attempted to deflect blame or responsibility to others. This is deeply disappointing.
Did Unified get advance notice about the Hotel Quarantine Program?
The first contact Unified Security received from anyone in State or Federal government regarding Hotel Quarantine in Victoria was an email from the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions at 11:33pm on March 27, 2020.
This was nine hours after it was announced by the Prime Minister.
Around the end of March, Unified Security recognised that the growing transmission of COVID-19 in the community was creating an increased risk to staff who have regular face-to-face contact with the public.
We made a proactive decision for all staff to undertake the Federal Government’s online infection control training to maximise their safety and awareness. This was the only online course available on the subject.
Was Unified Security just “handed” this contract?
As at 27 March when the decision was made to stand up a Hotel Quarantine Program, no one had any idea how long the Program would run.
All three security companies that the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions reached out to provided the Victorian Government with rate cards for services, as specified in the contract. The services were to be delivered on an “on demand” basis on a fortnightly basis.
This meant there was no certainty for Unified Security or any security provider as to the duration or value of the contract beyond a fortnight.
The Government had the discretion to assign whichever security company they saw fit to work in whichever hotels they saw fit.
This arrangement meant that if Unified Security was not up to the task or was not delivering the services to the required standards, the Department could have quickly and simply discontinued using us. We were allocated subsequent hotels based solely on the quality of our work.
We started working at two hotels in the first two weeks of the program and at that point had no knowledge of the future duration or scope of the project.
Again, to be clear, this clearly demonstrates that Unified Security were not simply “handed” a $30m contract. We were only as good as our last fortnight’s work.
After the first two weeks, we were tasked by the Department to provide services at an additional five hotels.
A week later we were tasked with an additional two hotels when another provider was removed from those hotels.
This gradual expansion of services in the first month of the program clearly demonstrated that the Department had confidence in and were satisfied with the job we were doing.
We are proud of the job we did under extremely difficult circumstances.
Media outlets have been provided with this information, but some have chosen to deliberately ignore it and instead report that we were simply handed a $30m contract.
How did Jobs Victoria know about Unified Security?
Last year, well before COVID-19 existed, Unified Security worked with Jobs Victoria in the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) to identify and recruit staff to work on various projects in Victoria.
So we had an existing relationship with Jobs Victoria well before the emergence and global spread of COVID-19 and the establishment of the Hotel Quarantine Program.
The evidence provided to the Inquiry is that this positive interaction with Jobs Victoria last year was a key reason they reached out to us close to midnight on 27 March when they needed security services at very short notice for the Hotel Quarantine program.
The simple fact is that Unified Security was a known and trusted company whose contact details were already held in the Department.
What about the Government’s security services panel?
Much has been made that Unified Security were not on the Government panel for security providers.
Unified Security cannot speak for DJPR and how they made their decisions.
What we can say is that Unified Security was contacted at the same time as other security companies, late at night on 27 March.
We were also subject to and complied with the same procurement and contracting requirements as the other companies.
Did we only get the job because we are an accredited Indigenous supplier?
We are a proudly Australian owned company, unlike some of the multinationals in the industry that are foreign owned.
We are an accredited Indigenous supplier. We regularly identify and employ quality people who may have faced adversity or hardship in their lives. But that does not mean a hard luck story is a key to getting a job at Unified Security.
Our staff recruitment and retention strategy is heavily focused on people with the skills, attitude, energy and commitment required for the job.
Unified Security is an Aussie success story which regularly competes for jobs against the foreign-owned multinational giants of the security industry whose profits flow to overseas owners.
Although we are much smaller than the big players, we continue to win market share from them and grow our business across Australia. It is deeply disappointing that we are being vilified by some elements of the media for our Indigenous ownership.
A full copy of our submission to the Board of Inquiry into Hotel Quarantine can be found here, marked Submission 11 – Unified Security Group.
Many of the facts mentioned here can be found in the closing submissions from Counsel Assisting the Inquiry. Click here – it is marked Transcript of Day 26 hearing 28 September.