Dan Andrews’ top advisor admits premier made call to use private security WITHOUT seeking advice from him – as texts show even the police minister didn’t believe the army was needed
- Daniel Andrews’ right hand man Chris Eccles did not make hotel decision
- The Premier’s top public servant still does not know who made the decision
- Victorian Premier announced the plan without advice from his own department
- Mr Eccles can’t recall advising police chief cops would support private guards
- Victoria was offered defence force troops in March and again in April this year
- Victoria’s hotel quarantine disaster has led to the deaths of more than 700
A countdown to the deadly decision that saw Victoria choose private security over Australian Defence Force personnel to run hotel quarantine has been revealed.
An inquiry into the bungled decision heard Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced private security guards would guard returning travellers – without advice from his top bureaucrat.
On Monday, Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles told the inquiry he did not advise the premier to use private security.
Mr Andrews went public with the scheme during a 3.20 pm press conference on March 27 – just hours after Victoria Police’s chief commissioner had been advised by someone from within the Department of Premier and Cabinet that police would play second fiddle to private security guards.
Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles has faced the hotel inquiry in Melbourne
Private security has been accused of bungling the hotel quarantine operation and causing Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID-19
Meeting notes from March 27 where Chris Eccles appear to assume a decision has been made to employ private security at hotels. He cannot remember the meeting
It comes as the inquiry revealed Victoria’s Police Minister Lisa Neville questioned the use of Australian Defence Force personnel at Victorian hotels.
‘The use of the army in hotels? That was not agreed at CCc (crisis cabinet) yesterday but is that what we will be doing? And what will they be doing,’ she asked the state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp on June 25.
In a day of drama, Mr Eccles, who was appointed secretary of the DPC in December 2014 and leads the Victorian public service in advising the premier and the entire government of Victoria, told the inquiry he had ‘no recollection’ of advising Mr Andrews to use private security at the hotels.
Nor did he believe anyone else from within the DPC had provided any such advice.
Quarantine breaches involving private security guards seeded 99 per cent of Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID infections, which in turn has led to more than 700 deaths of the elderly.
More than 30 security guards ended up catching coronavirus from quarantined returned travellers while working in the hotels.
After more than three weeks of sitting, the inquiry has heard not a single person can identify who made the decision to hire the private security guards, including Mr Eccles, who claimed on Monday he still doesn’t know.
Mr Eccles came under fire from counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard.
‘You are probably aware in a more general sense of evidence that’s been given before the board from a number of other people who were also not aware of where the decision was made and when and by whom,’ she said.
‘The decision to engage private security ended up employing thousands of people and costing tens of millions of dollars. Shouldn’t we be able to say who made it, as a matter of proper governance?’
Mr Eccles suggested the decision was likely made by a ‘collective’ of government officials.
Former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton takes on oath on the bible to tell the truth at Thursday’s inquiry into Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program last week
Former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton text messages his federal colleague advising that the order to use private security came from the premier’s office
At the press conference, Mr Andrews said that police, private security and the government’s health team would be working together at the hotels.
‘We’ve been working on this for quite some time,’ Mr Andrews said.
He further revealed 500 police working on coronavirus enforcement would be freed up by the private security guard plan.
Mr Eccles claimed he had no knowledge of the plan and could not speculate on what the premier meant during the press conference.
‘It’s really interesting and important question because … it seizes at the issue of individual and collective decision-making,’ Mr Eccles said.
The inquiry heard that a meeting of the National Cabinet was held just hours before Mr Andrews announced the plan to use private security.
The meeting, which included Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the nation’s premiers, was held to discuss the COVID-19 crisis.
It concluded about about 1pm where a briefing was held with various department heads within Victoria.
Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton texted Mr Eccles about 16 minutes later.
‘Chris I am getting word from Canberra for a plan whereby arrivals from overseas are to be subjected to enforced isolation from tomorrow,’ Mr Ashton wrote.
‘The suggestion is Victorian arrivals are conveyed to a hotel Somewhere where they are guarded by police for 14 days. Are you aware of anything in this regard?? Graham.’
Mr Eccles said although it was his practice to respond to the chief directly, he could not remember doing so.
Six minutes after contacting Mr Eccles, Mr Ashton texted Australian Federal Police Reece Kershaw telling him the DPC had advised police would not be running security at Melbourne hotels.
Mr Ashton told the inquiry last week he can’t recall who it was who told him.
Under cross examination by a barrister representing Victoria Police, Mr Eccles said it was possible he had delegated an underling to respond to Mr Ashton, but could not be sure.
Both Mr Ashton and Mr Eccles’ phone records fail to show the pair spoke or texted after Mr Ashton’s initial text message.
However, Mr Eccles confirmed he had failed to ask if he did in fact ask someone else to pass on information to Mr Ashton.
The inquiry heard at a meeting held after Mr Andrews’ press conference that day, the decision to use private security firms over police and Australian Defence Force personnel appeared to be well a truly decided.
In notes of the meeting, which Mr Eccles cannot remember attending, Mr Eccles is noted as stating that he assumes private security had got the job.
At the same meeting, Mr Ashton is noted asking what role Victoria Police would have.
‘ADF will be assisting in spot-checking processes from what the PM and the Premier confirmed … we’re trying to keep the ADF presence back of house – to prevent the ADF presence obvious to the community etc,’ he is noted as asking.
‘Police wont [sic] guard but will be doing the checks?’.
A text message sent by former police chief Graham Ashton (bottom) six minutes after texting Chris Eccles
An email from Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens offering ADF personnel to Victorian DPC secretary Chris Eccles in April
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will front the hotel inquiry on Wednesday
The inquiry has heard repeatedly that ADF personnel would be available to guard Victorian quarantine hotels if required.
On Monday, the inquiry heard that Mr Eccles was directly offered ADF support, but he cannot recall whether he acted upon the offer or forwarded it up the chain of command.
Instead, the Victorian Government appeared more interested in obtaining cash from the Commonwealth to support it’s army of bungling rent-a-cops.
‘In about early April 2020, I contacted (Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens) and asked him whether the Commonwealth could provide any financial assistance to Victoria for security in the Hotel Quarantine Program,’ Mr Eccles told the inquiry.
‘Mr Gaetjens responded by email on 8 April 2020 saying, in effect, that the Commonwealth would only provide in-kind assistance of ADF personnel.’
Last week, Mr Andrews continued to stand by his earlier claims that Victoria was not offered ADF assistance with hotel quarantine.
He is set to be grilled at the inquiry on Wednesday.