Victoria’s state opposition is calling for an investigation into why a private security company, which was involved in Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine scheme, was granted a licence extension by the state.
The move comes just weeks after NSW Police revoked the master licence of Unified Security Group due to “undeclared changes in ownership”—effectively axing up to a third of NSW quarantine hotels. However, an interim stay until April 26 was granted to the company earlier this month by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In a letter to Victoria’s Attorney-General, Shadow Minister for Police and Crime Prevention David Southwick said his party was “deeply concerned” that the Andrews government awarded contracts to Unified after a government review found “ongoing concerns of widespread company phoenixing, sham contracting, poor training and employee education and language standards” into Victoria’s private security industry.
“Serious questions remain as to why an unapproved company facing charges in New South Wales was engaged to work in hotel quarantine and has received a licence renewal,” Southwick said.
Furthermore, Unified Security Group was not part of a Victorian government panel of approved security providers, unlike the other two private security companies engaged in the state’s hotel quarantine program, Southwick added.
“Despite paying more than $60m to these companies, private security contractors were directly responsible for triggering Victoria’s catastrophic second wave, resulting in the deaths of more than 800 Victorians, 250,000 job losses and immeasurable social and economic harms,” he said.
Southwick says “no answer” has yet been given by the Andrews government over its decision to renew Unified Security’s contract in the state’s hotel quarantine program, reported Sky News.
Unified Security’s chief executive, David Millward, has previously accused the Andrews government of having a “confused and ineffective government departmental structure,” which led to inadequate infection-control protocols in the hotels, reported The Age.
This comes despite the company being “vindicated” after the Coates Inquiry found flaws in the Victorian government’s oversight of the hotel quarantine program, and alleged that Unified was incapable of staffing the quarantine hotels and relied almost entirely on subcontractors, reported The Herald Sun.
Unified Security Group, an Indigenous-owned business, was awarded contracts of over $30 million between late March and July 2020 to oversee Victoria’s hotel quarantine scheme. Under the contracts awarded to Unified, Wilson Security, and MSS, these companies were asked to provide security guards training on infection control and personal protective equipment.
The Coates Inquiry found that while hotel quarantine was a “crucial element” that the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews had committed Victoria to adopt. The report noted that “neither he nor his ministers had any active role in, or oversight of, the decision about how that enforcement would be achieved.”
This the inquiry heard led to hotel quarantine security being highly casualised and poorly trained in contrast to strict structures supporting police and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel.
Following the release of the hotel quarantine final report in December 2020, Unified said in a statement that its company staff “worked hard and in good faith, and were unfairly maligned after the outbreak” and said that it was “convenient for bureaucrats to blame and hide behind security guards and security companies.”
In response to the hotel quarantine inquiry’s final report, the Victorian government said that along with implementing all 81 recommendations, it is “committed to learning from these lessons, to ensure that Victoria continues to deliver the safest and most effective quarantine system possible.”