MELBOURNE, AAP – A private security company involved in Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine scheme is suing the state government to recover nearly $10 million in unpaid invoices.
Unified Security was one of three companies contracted to provide guards for the first iteration of the program, which was designed to stop coronavirus from spreading into the community.
But the program sparked a second wave of COVID-19 infections, resulting in 800 deaths.
Unified has launched Supreme Court action to recover what it says amounts to more than $9.7 million in unpaid invoices, plus GST, alongside damages and court costs.
The company’s statement of claim says it’s “unconscionable” for the government to deny payment for the services provided.
The use of private security guards to manage returned overseas travellers at Melbourne hotels in 2020 culminated in a $5.7 million inquiry.
The inquiry was told Unified Security took on the bulk of the work, placing 1754 guards, mostly subcontracted, across 13 quarantine hotels at a cost of about $30 million.
They were not on the government’s preferred contractors list and charged higher hourly rates than MSS and Wilson for the same work.
Retired judge Jennifer Coate concluded the decision to hire the guards was an “orphan”, with “no person or department claiming responsibility” for the disastrous call.
Court documents now say at no time between the end of March and mid-July last year did the government raise any concerns about Unified subcontracting other companies for the provision of security services.
“The State of Victoria was satisfied with the manner in which the security services and ancillary services were being provided,” the statement of claim filed on Wednesday said.
Under its contract with the jobs department, Unified said it would be told about the numbers of travellers expected a day in advance before finalising the exact number of workers needed.
“The parties adopted a common assumption that Unified Security would engage subcontractors to carry out part of the security services without the need for prior written approval of the State of Victoria,” it said.
In July, Unified entered into a short-lived verbal agreement with the justice department after it took over the troubled program.
“It would be unjust for the State of Victoria … to retain the benefits conferred upon it by the performance of work by Unified Security without paying to Unified Security a reasonable renumeration for such work,” the company said.
Unified is itself being sued, alongside MSS Security, by the families of aged-care residents who died when COVID-19 leaked from the hotels.
About 99 per cent of the state’s second wave was traced back to outbreaks at two hotels, the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza.
Unified provided security at 12 facilities including Rydges, according to court documents.
The government has been contacted for comment.