Taxpayers foot $1m cash splash on hotel consultants

 

The state government paid almost $1m to an army of consultants working behind the scenes on its fatally botched hotel quarantine program.

Figures tabled at the inquiry into the program show bureaucrats expected the program would cost up to $133m by the end of June.

This included $924,000 spent on consultants, including the big firms Boston Consulting, ($393,000), PwC ($303,000) and Deloitte ($197,000).

Staff at Rydges on Swanston receive a delivery of PPE. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty
Staff at Rydges on Swanston receive a delivery of PPE. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

Controversial company Unified Security, which was not on the government's preferred supplier list but was chosen at least in part because it was Indigenous-owned, was on track for a $44.9m payday - which was most of the security budget.

In comparison, Wilson Security was due to be paid $8.8m to June 30, and MSS was in line for $12m.

The documents, generated by the Department of Jobs, Regions and Precincts to discuss how to cover a projected $24m budget blowout, also show Crown Melbourne was by far the biggest accommodation supplier, in line to be paid $15m.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos AUGUST 14 2020: Rydges on Swanston hotel in Melbourne. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos AUGUST 14 2020: Rydges on Swanston hotel in Melbourne. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

The next biggest supplier, Pan Pacific, was to be paid a little less than $5m.

Payments of more than $1m were also made to the two hotels where COVID-19-positive guests inadvertently infected workers and were linked to 99 per cent of Victoria's second wave, the Stamford Plaza ($1.9m) and Rydges on Swanston ($1.7m).

The total accommodation bill is expected to reach $62m.

The inquiry, chaired by retired judge Jennifer Coate, heard DJPR Secretary Simon Phemister will appear, and counsel assisting, Tony Neal QC, said the "deciders, not the doers'' would be called.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp also confirmed he expected to be called, as he refused to answer questions from the media about his role in the decision to use private security instead of the Australian Defence Force.

"I am more than happy to fully co-operate with the hotel inquiry," he said.

The inquiry also heard on Monday that quarantine hotels were not given specific instructions on infection control at the time they signed up to be used to quarantine returned overseas travellers.

Payments of more than $1 million were made to the Stamford Plaza and Rydges on Swanston.
Payments of more than $1 million were made to the Stamford Plaza and Rydges on Swanston.

Unni Menon, who usually worked as the department's director of aviation strategy but was put in charge of procurement and contracting, said "there were no formal written instructions issued to, or discussions held with, hotels on applicable infection control requirements at the time that they entered into formal agreements with DJPR.''

Mr Menon said "information and instructions about infection control'' were outlined in the hotels' obligations in the formal agreements.

"We clearly identified the responsibilities of each supplier (or hotel) in relation to cleaning and disinfection requirements in the contracts,'' he said.

However, Mr Menon also said he had only received "clarity and detail'' about required cleaning procedures from the DHHS in mid-June, which he had immediately circulated to the hotels involved in the program.

ellen.whinnett@news.com.au

Originally published as Taxpayers foot $1m cash splash on hotel consultants



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