Emails cast doubt over Vic CHO's testimony

Brett Sutton has been asked to provide further evidence to Victoria's hotel quarantine inquiry.
Brett Sutton has been asked to provide further evidence to Victoria's hotel quarantine inquiry.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has confirmed he also has been asked to answer new questions from the hotel quarantine inquiry.

The state's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton was to provide a new statement to the hotel quarantine inquiry after emails emerged contradicting his earlier testimony.

The premier on Wednesday said he had been given "a few pretty basic questions".

He added it was in the wake of new developments, including the resignation of top Victorian bureaucrat Chris Eccles.

"I would call it an exercise for completeness' sake, if you like," Mr Andrew said.

"I'm not changing my evidence, I've not been asked to. It's not about some inconsistency that's been pointed out, there have been a few developments in recent times, whether it be Mr Eccles or others."

Mr Eccles and former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos have resigned as a direct result of the inquiry.

An extraordinary hearing of the inquiry was called on Tuesday after the Department of Health and Human Services handed over a number of emails it had not originally tendered.

The department's lawyers said they did not consider them critical or relevant.

But counsel assisting the inquiry Tony Neal QC said the emails cover "matters that occupied a very considerable amount of the board's time" during the inquiry.

One email chain, which begins on March 30 and ends on July 2, involves a number of senior DHHS officials, including Finn Romanes, the then-Deputy Public Health Commander.

An email written by Dr Romanes titled "Information - Chain of Command - people in detention" was described by Mr Neal as "most significant".

It lists Prof Sutton as the head of "all policy and oversight of people in detention".

A second email chain on March 27 involves a number of DHHS staff, including Prof Sutton, and a federal government official.

The official asks a number of questions regarding Victoria's quarantine program, including what security arrangements will be in place.

Prof Sutton is copied into a reply which reads: "Private security has been contracted to provide security at the hotels with escalation arrangements to Vic Pol as needed".

He acknowledges he has seen the email by replying "Thanks so much" to its author.

Prof Sutton had told the inquiry in September he was not aware of guards being used in the program until media reports about a COVID-19 outbreak at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in late May.

He said the highly casualised nature of the security workforce, as well as cultural and language barriers led to "significant risks of transmission within the community".

About 99 per cent of the state's deadly second wave of COVID-19 can be traced back to outbreaks among guards and staff at two quarantine hotels.

In a statement on Tuesday, Prof Sutton said he respected the inquiry's work.

"I have fully cooperated with the board of inquiry and take my obligations to the board seriously," he said.

On Wednesday, the premier backed Prof Sutton, saying he has "a very important job to do".

The head of the inquiry, Jennifer Coate, indicated the new evidence may "unsettle" the November 6 reporting deadline.

She would not say when the inquiry's work would be completed.

Australian Associated Press