A countdown has been revealed to the deadly decision in which Victoria chose private security over Australian Defense Forces personnel to carry out the hotel quarantine.
An investigation into the botched decision found that Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews announced that private security guards would be guarding returning travelers – without advice from his top bureaucrat.
On Monday, Prime Minister’s Department and Cabinet Secretary Chris Eccles told the investigation that he did not advise the prime minister to use private security.
Andrews made the plan public in a 3:20 pm press conference on March 27 – just hours after the Chief of Victoria Police had been advised by someone from the Prime Minister and the cabinet that the police would play second fiddle to private guards.
Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Chris Eccles is facing the Melbourne hotel investigation
Private security has been accused of messing up the hotel’s quarantine activities and causing Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID-19
Minutes of the March 27 meeting in which Chris Eccles appears to believe that it has been decided to deploy private security in hotels. He cannot remember the meeting
It’s because the investigation found that Lisa Neville, Victoria’s Secretary of Police, questioned the use of Australian Defense Forces personnel in Victorian hotels.
‘The use of the military in hotels? That was not agreed yesterday at CCc (crisis cabinet), but are we going to do that? And what are they going to do, ”she asked State Commissioner for Emergency Management Andrew Crisp on June 25.
In a day of drama, Mr. Eccles, who was appointed Secretary of the DPC in December 2014 and heads the Victorian public service advising the Prime Minister and the entire Victoria government, told the investigation that he ‘cannot recall’ that he had advised Andrews to use private security in the hotels.
Nor did he believe that anyone else within the DPC had provided such advice.
Quarantine breaches involving private guards accounted for 99 percent of Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID infections, which in turn has led to more than 700 deaths among elderly people.
More than 30 security guards contracted the corona virus from returned travelers who had been quarantined while working in the hotels.
After sitting for more than three weeks, the investigation has heard that no one can identify who made the decision to hire the private guards, including Mr. Eccles, who claimed on Monday that he still doesn’t know.
Mr. Eccles came under fire from counsel who assisted Rachel Ellyard in the investigation.
“You are probably more generally aware of the evidence provided to the board by a number of other people who also did not know where the decision was made and when and by whom,” she said.
The decision to engage private security ultimately employed thousands of people and cost tens of millions of dollars. Shouldn’t we be able to say who made it, as a matter of good governance? ‘
Mr. Eccles suggested that the decision was likely made by a “collective” of government officials.
Former Chief Graham Ashton swears oath on the Bible to tell the truth during Thursday’s investigation into Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program last week
Former Chief Graham Ashton texts his federal colleague saying the order to use private security came from the Prime Minister’s office
At the press conference, Mr Andrews said the police, private security and government health team would work together in the hotels.
“We’ve been on this for quite some time,” said Mr. Andrews.
He further revealed that 500 police officers working to enforce the coronavirus would be released by the private warden’s plan.
Mr. Eccles claimed he had no knowledge of the plan and could not speculate on what the prime minister meant at the press conference.
“It’s a really interesting and important question because … it pertains to the issue of individual and collective decision-making,” said Mr. Eccles.
The investigation learned that a meeting of the national cabinet was being held hours before Mr. Andrews announced the plan to use private security.
The meeting, attended by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the country’s prime ministers, was held to discuss the COVID-19 crisis.
It ended around 1:00 PM, where a briefing was held with several heads of department within Victoria.
Victoria Police Chief Graham Ashton texted Mr Eccles about 16 minutes later.
“Chris, I am getting word from Canberra for a plan to force arrivals from abroad to be subjected to forced isolation from tomorrow,” Ashton wrote.
The suggestion is that Victorian arrivals be transferred to a hotel somewhere where they will be guarded by the police for 14 days. Are you aware of anything in this regard ?? Graham. ‘
Mr. Eccles said that although it was his custom to respond directly to the chief, he couldn’t remember.
Six minutes after contacting Mr Eccles, Mr Ashton sent a text message to Australian Federal Police Reece Kershaw telling him that the police had said that the police would not be conducting security on the Melbourne hotels.
Mr Ashton told the investigation last week that he cannot remember who told him.
Under cross-examination by a lawyer representing Victoria Police, Mr. Eccles said it was possible he might have delegated a subordinate to respond to Mr. Ashton, but he was not sure.
Neither Mr. Ashton’s and Mr. Eccles’s phone records show that the couple spoke or texted after Mr. Ashton’s first text message.
However, Mr. Eccles confirmed that he had not asked if he had indeed asked anyone else to provide information to Mr. Ashton.
The investigation, overheard at a meeting held that day after Mr Andrews’ press conference, seemed to make the decision to use private security firms over police and Australian defense personnel a real decision.
In notes from the meeting, which Mr. Eccles cannot recall attending, Mr. Eccles mentions that he believes the private security had gotten the job.
At the same meeting, Mr Ashton is noted asking what role Victoria Police would have.
‘ADF will assist in the sample checking of processes of what the Prime Minister and Prime Minister have confirmed … we try to keep the ADF presence behind the house – to avoid the ADF presence being apparent to the community etc.’ , He is noted as questions.
‘Not the police [sic] guard but are you doing the checks? ‘.
An email from Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Phil Gaetjens offering ADF staff to Victorian DPC Secretary Chris Eccles in April
Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews will handle the hotel application on Wednesday
The investigation has repeatedly learned that ADF personnel would be available to guard Victorian quarantine hotels if necessary.
On Monday, the inquiry heard that Mr. Eccles was being offered direct ADF support, but he can’t remember if he had followed up on the offer or forwarded it down the chain of command.
Instead, the Victorian government seemed more interested in getting Commonwealth money to support its army of clumsy rent-a-cops.
“ About the beginning of April 2020, I contacted (Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department Phil Gaetjens) and asked him if the Commonwealth could provide Victoria with any financial support for security in the Hotel Quarantine Program, ” Mr Eccles told the inquiry .
“Mr Gaetjens responded by email on April 8, 2020, saying in effect that the Commonwealth would only provide in-kind assistance to ADF personnel.”
Last week, Mr. Andrews insists on his earlier claims that Victoria was not offered ADF assistance with hotel quarantine.
He will be grilled at the examination on Wednesday.