Timing is important because as the most visible health official in the Andrews administration, Professor Sutton could potentially use his authority to ask questions about the use of private security guards, as he later did, on the basis that an occasional and poorly trained workforce weren’t equipped to work in the dangerous environment of the hotel quarantine.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health responded to questions that a thorough and quick search for documents was carried out when the investigation was set up. In mid-July, the investigation had made it clear that only documents that are considered to be “most relevant” and “greatest help” and amount to around 600 documents should be provided. The department had now provided 4,000 documents and the investigation asked for two more this week, the spokesman said.
“DHHS continues to strive to work together with the board of directors and to work together openly and promptly on all inquiries.”
Government sources aware of the situation have confirmed that the Department of Health and Human Services served the investigation further emails on Friday after receiving a notice of issue. The news came after Age had alerted the request to the presence of new emails.
Just hours after the National Cabinet decided on March 27 to place all international arrivals in a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine, Professor Sutton received an email from Sandra Jeffrey, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Border Measures.
Jeffrey asked Professor Sutton to provide an overview of Victoria’s quarantine arrangements and key contacts. Professor Sutton asked colleagues in the department to prepare a response and copy it into the email returned to Ms. Jeffrey.
The chain email shows Professor Sutton thanking a colleague for his work after Home Affairs was notified of Victoria’s precautions, including the use of personal security.
“I have not been involved in giving instructions, directions, or guidance to private security companies. As explained earlier, I was unaware that security forces were being used prior to the outbreaks, ”said the Chief Health Officer in his written statement.
He retrospectively admitted that relying on private security poses a health risk due to the vulnerabilities and demographic structure of the workforce.
The material originally withheld from the investigation also includes an April 1 email describing a structure of command for the surveillance of detainees that the chief health officer would use to assist other members of the public health team .
In reality, however, the public health team has been excluded from the operational side of the quarantine program, according to information prior to the investigation.
Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said Friday that Professor Sutton’s absence from the daily COVID-19 media conference had nothing to do with doubts about his evidence for the investigation. Mr. Andrews said he did not know anything about the matter.
“I don’t know much more than this [this morning’s] Reports … this is not a big surprise as this is a matter between the chief health officer, the department, and the board of directors [of inquiry]. ”
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said Professor Sutton should be called back from the investigation to explain the inconsistency in his evidence. Shadow Attorney General Ed O’Donohue wrote Friday to the chief investigator, Judge Jennifer Coate, to urge her to seek extension from the council’s governor to recall several witnesses, including Professor Sutton, for further investigation .
Late Friday, Professor Sutton issued a statement saying the evidence he presented to the investigative committee was honest and to the best of his knowledge.
“If I am asked to appear before the board again, I will of course cooperate fully and be open and honest, as I always have been.”
Professor Sutton said the commission of inquiry recently asked the department for additional documents, and the documents had been made available.
Learn more? Be sure to contact Richard Baker [email protected]
Richard Baker is a multi-award winning investigative reporter for The Age.
Noel Towell is the state policy editor for The Age
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