Daniel Andrews has denied he was reluctant to accept ADF troops to help enforce Victoria’s second lockdown after bombshell letters showed Scott Morrison had offered them three times.
The prime minister urged Mr Andrews to accept troops in three letters sent on 4, 6 and 11 July as Victoria’s second wave of Covid-19 threatened to overwhelm the state.
In the third letter, Mr Morrison tried to persuade Mr Andrews to take on 1,000 soldiers, writing: ‘I recommend that you again consider further ADF deployment to Melbourne over the coming days.’
A total of 1,000 Australian Defence Force troops (pictured) arrived in Melbourne after Mr Andrews announce he agreed to accept them on 14 July
Daniel Andrews (pictured on Thursday) has denied he was reluctant to accept ADF troops to help enforce Victoria’s second lockdown even though Scott Morrison offered them three times
The letters came after the Victorian government had requested 850 troops on 24 June but then retracted the request the next day, citing ‘changing operational and resourcing requirements’.
The state government chose to use Corrections Victoria staff instead of troops to man hotel quarantine after the virus escaped from the bungled program in late May.
A government source told Sky News that Mr Morrison’s letters were written in such a way that Victoria could not turn down the help.
On 14 July, Mr Andrews announced 1,000 troops would arrive in Victoria over the following three to four weeks after he reached a deal with Mr Morrison.
On Thursday Mr Andrews denied that he was unwilling to accept the troops, saying that he was ‘very grateful’ for the support.
Asked by a reporter if he was reluctant to receive the help, he said: ‘I don’t think you can fairly draw the conclusion.
‘I made a request in June and indeed, earlier than that. I made many requests and I’m pleased to say they were answered and that is why we’ve got… more than 1,000 ADF troops on the ground now doing an amazing job.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Victorian premier to accept troops in three letters. Pictured are ADF troops and police patrolling Melbourne during the second wave of the virus
Bomshell letters reveal Scott Morrison (left at a steel factory last week) urged Daniel Andrews to accept troops three times
He added: ‘I think it’s inaccurate and unfair for you to infer from those letters… any reticence on my part.’
Asked if he accepted the prime minister’s offer after the first letter, Mr Andrews said: ‘I’d need to check. Letters come in, they usually follow requests.’
The reporter asked why the prime minister needed to send three letters offering support and the premier replied: ‘Again, I think you are drawing conclusions.
‘You’re free to do that but that freedom doesn’t mean that you are right and I’m indicating to you that you are wrong.’
In his first letter on 4 July – obtained by Sky News under Freedom of Information laws revealed – Mr Morrison said he was ‘concerned’ about cases spiking to 108 a day.
‘This has necessitated a further two postcodes being listed as hotspots and new hard lockdowns of nine residential public housing buildings in North Melbourne,’ he wrote.
‘I recognise the new measures and support the significant efforts underway. The Commonwealth stands ready to provide any support needed on top of the existing measures in place, including Australian Defence Force support to support planning and logistics, and Commonwealth staff to support clinical efforts, community engagement and contact tracing.’
He added ADF personnel could also help with patrolling affected suburbs already in lockdown and residents do not travel outside from hotspot zones.
‘As we have seen with the previous outbreaks in North-West Tasmania and Sydney, these types of outbreaks can quickly overwhelm local health systems. I reaffirm the offer of Commonwealth for on-the-ground support and help in co-ordinating support from other states while acknowledging Victoria’s leadership,’ he continued.
Mr Morrison also expressed concern about the number of cases where travellers had been identified entering NSW, sparking a spike in fresh cases there.
Pictured are ADF personnel manning a Princes Highway checkpoint outside Melbourne
The prime minister followed up with another letter three days later on 7 July, followed by a third on July 11.
‘It is critical to the containment of the virus that the now thousands of people in isolation and quarantine are carefully tracked by phone and personal visits to ensure compliance (and to ensure their welfare),’ Mr Morrison stressed.
He added: ‘An estimated 1,000 ADF could be progressively deployed in this way over the next week, with greater scope beyond. Given the escalating COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria, I recommend you again consider further ADF deployment to Melbourne over the coming days to assist in the enforcement of public health compliance,’ he wrote.
Mr Andrews responded to the Prime Minister on July 5, 7, 12 and 14, the day he announced the troops would arrive.
Emails shown to an inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program earlier this month revealed the prime minister’s office repeatedly offered troops to man the hotels.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry was shown shocking photos (pictured) of quarantine guests walking freely to a convenience store from a Melbourne facility
On April 8, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens emailed his Victorian counterpart Chris Eccles to again offer ADF assistance. Mr Eccles replied: ‘Thanks Phil’ – but no request for help was made
When the coronavirus quarantine policy was announced on 27 March, New South Wales accepted 360 troops and Queensland took 100 but Victoria refused any help, an inquiry heard on Tuesday.
On April 8, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens emailed his Victorian counterpart Chris Eccles to again offer ADF assistance.
Referencing how the ADF helped with security in NSW, Mr Gaetjens wrote: ‘I am sure the Commonwealth would be willing to assist Victoria in a similar way if you wanted to reconsider your operating model’.
Mr Eccles replied: ‘Thanks Phil’ – but no request for help was made.
Instead, Victoria used private security guards who flouted social distancing rules, caught the virus in late May and helped spark the state’s second wave which has killed more than 700 people.
It wasn’t until June 24 that Victoria’s emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp made a request for 850 defence personnel to replace private security.
An email from the prime minister’s office to the premier’s office on that day shows the pair discussed the support.
But the request was rescinded a day later after the Department of Justice and Community Safety took over the program.
How Victoria rejected ADF support
* March 27 – National Cabinet decides returned overseas travellers will be required to complete 14 days of hotel quarantine. The Australia Defence Force prepares 100 personnel in each large state (and 50 in smaller states and territories) to ‘support expected quarantine compliance monitoring requests’. NSW and Queensland accept the support, Victoria decides to hire private security guards instead.
* March 28 – Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp reiterates there is no need for ADF ‘boots on the ground’. Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, named Operation Soteria, begins taking travellers from 11:59pm.
* March 31 – ADF situational report states ‘we are seeing minimal requests for ADF support’ in Victoria. Troops remain on standby.
* April 2 – ADF provides five personnel to conduct quarantine compliance monitoring. Instead, they are deployed to administrative roles.
* April 8 – Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens emails Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles to again offer ADF assistance.
*April 17 – ADF situational report states Victoria’s hotel quarantine program is ‘nearing planned capacity of 4000 people. Despite this there are presently no indicators that ADF assistance will be requested in the near term. I will keep a close watch on this space’.
* May 14 – ADF Major General Kenny visits Victoria, meets with deputy commissioner of Victoria Police and Mr Crisp. Mr Crisp tells Major General Kelly words to the effect of: ‘The situation in Victoria has improved to such an extent that it is unlikely that Victoria would need any further ADF support except planners inside of EMV’.
* May 25 – A staff member at Rydges on Swanston tests positive to COVID-19.
* May 27 – Outbreak at Rydges on Swanston first identified by the Department of Health and Human Services.
* June 17 – Stamford Plaza outbreak identified.
* June 24 – Mr Crisp requests 850 ADF personnel to replace private security at quarantine hotels.
* June 25 – Request rescinded as the Department of Justice and Community Safety takes over the program.
* June 30 – Premier Daniel Andrews announces an inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program after genomic sequencing revealed a number of coronavirus cases can be linked to ‘staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well-known and well-understood infection control protocols’. Flights diverted to other cities.
* July 4, July 6, July 11 – As COVID-19 cases numbers escalate in Victoria, Prime Minister Scott Morrison writes to Mr Andrews on three occasions to offer ADF support.
* July 13 – Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton concedes all current cases in Victoria can be traced back to outbreaks at the hotels.
* August 11 – Mr Andrews tells a parliamentary inquiry ADF support was not offered for hotel quarantine, sparking a war of words with federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
Source: Materials provided by the federal government to Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry.