Walls close in on Chairman Dan Andrews as his right hand man falls on his sword despite maintaining he had nothing to do with the disastrous decision to use private security for hotel quarantine – as calls grow for his resignation
- Daniel Andrews’ right hand man Chris Eccles resigned on Monday
- 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 800
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is facing increasing pressure to stand down after the resignation of his right hand man Chris Eccles on Monday.
Victorian Labor MPs have begun to circle Mr Andrews as the political blood of his department chief spilt following revelations he may have made the call to use private security guards at Victorian hotels.
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.
Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles has quit after it was revealed he had spoken to Victoria Police chief Graham Ashton about hotel security
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 month
Private security has been accused of bungling the hotel quarantine operation and causing Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID-19
Mr Eccles had been appointed secretary of the DPC in December 2014 and led the Victorian public service in advising the premier and the entire government of Victoria.
His resignation will have come as a bitter blow to the premier as questions emerge about who was actually running the state of Victoria when COVID-19 hit – Mr Eccles or Mr Andrews.
Mr Eccles’ resignation comes just weeks after the premier’s health minister Jenny Mikakos fell on her sword and resigned.
More than 30 security guards ended up catching coronavirus from quarantined returned travellers while working in the hotels.
At his Monday press conference, Mr Andrews told reporters he was shocked to learn Mr Eccles had spoken to the police chief despite his previous evidence to the hotel inquiry.
The premier said Victorians could have confidence in his government.
‘The public service is bigger than one person,’ Mr Andrews said.
Mr Eccles continues to stand by his evidence to the probe despite standing down.
‘My evidence is emphatic that neither myself nor the Department of Premier and Cabinet made a decision to use private security as part of the Hotel Quarantine Program,’ he said.
Speaking anonymously to the Herald Sun, several MPs reportedly claimed it was time for Mr Andrews to stand aside so the government could ‘restore integrity’.
‘It’s now clear the Premier must resign,’ one Labor MP told the publication.
‘He and Chris Eccles are joined are the hip.
‘We have had this charade of an inquiry for month now, people have been locked up and 800 people have died its time for him to go or the 71 people in the Labor caucus to act.’
Last month, an inquiry into the bungled decision heard Mr Andrews announced private security guards would guard returning travellers – without advice from his top bureaucrat.
Then 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.
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.
Countdown to disaster was revealed at the inquiry into Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program
A text message sent by former police chief Graham Ashton (bottom) six minutes after texting Chris Eccles
Former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton text messages his federal colleague advising that the order to use private security came from the premier’s office
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 he could not recall who it was who told him.
On Friday, Mr Andrews was grilled by journalists over the missing six minutes and days later was asked by the inquiry board to hand over his call records along with those of Mr Eccles and other staffers.
On resigning, Mr Eccles maintained he could not recall talking to Mr Ashton.
‘I gave evidence that while I did not recall whether I telephoned former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton in response to a text message he sent me at 1.16pm on 27 March 2020, I may have.
‘Under cross examination I provided an answer to a related question that was inconsistent with the totality of my evidence and the meaning I was intending to convey.
‘This was not my intention, as I believe was made very clear by my written statement and further oral evidence.
‘At the time I gave evidence I did not have in my possession my full telephone records.’
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
Discussions between the DPC and he state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp indicate the use of ADF personnel before the hotel quarantine program began
Just last week, Ms Mikakos came out swinging against her former leader, suggesting he had lied at the hotel inquiry.
In August, on the final day of the hotel quarantine inquiry, Mr Andrews said he regarded Ms Mikakos and jobs minister Martin Pakula responsible for the hotel program when it began that weekend in March.
But in an extraordinary response to the inquiry’s closing submissions last week, Ms Mikakos said it was ‘implausible’ to suggest that no one made the decision to use private security in the failed quarantine program.
‘First, it is implausible to assert that ‘the use of private security [was] not really a decision at all’, but rather was ‘arrived at by way of a creeping assumption, that took hold over a period perhaps a couple of hours, and that wasn’t questioned by anyone’,’ Ms Mikakos stated.
‘The Board ought to treat with caution the Premier’s evidence where he sought to explain the reference to the use of private security in the Hotel Quarantine Program made by him during his media conference that commenced at 3 pm on 27 March 2020.’
Mr Andrews had told the board he did not know why he mentioned private security at his press conference, but insisted he had not made the decision to use private security.
‘It is submitted that had the decision not already been made by that time, the Premier would not have announced the use of private security in the program,’ Ms Mikakos stated.
After more than a month of sitting, the inquiry heard not a single person could identify who made the decision to hire the private security guards.
Victorian health minister resigned after the inquiry and put the boot into Daniel Andrews in a final swipe
ADF personnel didn’t step foot into a Melbourne hotel until the virus had already leaked out from bumbling private security guards employed by the Victorian state government
Mr Eccles had come 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.
At the March 27 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.
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.
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?’.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will front the hotel inquiry on Wednesday
The inquiry heard repeatedly that ADF personnel would be available to guard Victorian quarantine hotels if required.
The inquiry had heard that Mr Eccles was directly offered ADF support, but he could not 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.