Sky News host Peta Credlin has turned the screws on Premier Daniel Andrews as to why key phone records were withheld from Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry.
Mr Andrews was grilled by Credlin, who was once former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott’s chief-of-staff, on why phone records were not tendered to the hotel quarantine inquiry which might reveal who decided to use private security.
Mr Andrews seemingly avoided a series of questions on the hotel quarantine scandal during his daily press conference in Melbourne on Friday.
Peta Credlin has taken Premier Daniel Andrews to task at a press conference in Melbourne on Friday
Timeline to disaster: How the decision to employ private security came to be
Premier Daniel Andrews swore on the bible at the inquiry to tell the whole truth and nothing but it
He insisted that phone records had not been requested by the inquiry, which was headed by Justice Jennifer Coate.
‘At any point where this inquiry has sought more from the government, the answer has been yes,’ Mr Andrews said.
In a heated exchange, Credlin continued to press the premier to hand over the phone records to ‘clear up’ six crucial minutes where the decision to use private security guards appeared to have been made.
‘For the avoidance of doubt, are you (Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary) Chris Eccles, and indeed your chief of staff prepared to prove your outgoing calls in that six minute period,’ she asked.
Mr Andrews snapped back that he had not been asked to hand them over.
‘I am confident that if they believe there is a deficiency in the, or incompleteness in terms of the picture that they are working with, it is within their power to raise those matters,’ he said.
Under the law, the inquiry does not actually have the power to ask Mr Andrews for his phone records.
‘It is not a power or ability open to Justice Coate,’ Credlin told the premier.
‘But you as an individual, your chief of staff and Mr Eccles can willingly provide that information now and completely clear up this six minute period that has been I think the subject of a lot of debate.’
March 27, 1.12PM: Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw and them Victoria Police chief Graham Ashton commence a text exchange where Mr Ashton advises ADF will do passenger transfers
At 1.32PM, Mr Ashton advises the decision to use private security has been made by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. He has told the inquiry he cannot remember who it was who told him
The inquiry had heard previously that former Police Chief Graham Ashton had received a call from someone within the premier’s department telling him that the decision to use private security had been made.
But he couldn’t remember who had told him.
A clearly agitated premier, told Credlin if the inquiry had not asked him the question, he had no intention of telling her.
‘With the greatest of respect, if you’re putting it to me that somehow you’ve got the power to make a request of me, but the board doesn’t, that’s just not right,’ Mr Andrew said.
‘I don’t agree with the notion that now you and your network have an ability to put something to me and make a request of me but the board of inquiry doesn’t. The board has that power.’
The stoush followed a suggestion by former health minister Jenny Mikakos that Mr Andrews may have lied to the 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.
Bumbling security guards took COVID-19 home with them and spread it through the community
Peta Credlin has turned a blowtorch on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during his press conference on Friday
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 800 deaths of the elderly.
The bungle is estimated to be costing Victoria anywhere up to $400 million a day with fears the current lockdown could run as high as $25 billion.
Dozens of security guards ended up catching coronavirus from quarantined returned travellers while working in the hotels.
‘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.
In a long winded and self-serving document, Ms Mikakos pointed the finger at everyone and anyone over the failed hotel program.
‘Some of these matters speak to a failure of ordinary principles of departmental reporting and accountability,’ she stated.
‘In this case, such failures occurred in extraordinary circumstances, in which the State of Victoria was facing an unprecedented global pandemic.’
Former health minister Jenny Mikakos quit after Daniel Andrews blamed her for the deadly second wave of COVID-19
The disastrous decision to employ private security at hotels has cost the lives off 800 Victorians
Jobs minister Martin Pakula’s department was responsible initially for the hotel quarantine program
COVID-19 leaked out of The Stamford by security guards employed by the Victorian Government
Premier’s evidence ought be treated with CAUTION
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’.
With respect, such a submission has insufficient regard to the realities of governmental operation and decision-making. In this regard, it is respectfully submitted that 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.
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. In this regard, it is observed that no evidence was led about what briefings were provided to the Premier by his office in advance of that media conference.
Ms Mikakos said the premier’s evidence that he regarded her as accountable for the Hotel Quarantine Program following a Crisis Council of Cabinet meeting on April 8 was ‘not consistent with the joint submission endorsed by the Crisis Council of Cabinet on that date’.
‘It would be a nonsense … Ms Mikakos to be considered to be solely responsible and solely accountable for the Hotel Quarantine Program during the relevant period, by reason of the DHHS’s ‘control agency’ status in respect of the pandemic as a whole,’ she stated.
Ms Mikakos said her department secretary Kym Peake had reported directly to the premier at the time in her capacity as Mission Lead Secretary.
‘Ms Peake did not consider herself (or her department) to be exclusively accountable for aspects of the Hotel Quarantine Program,’ she stated.
‘The haste with which this program was established saw the usual Cabinet processes subverted with the Premier, through the Department of Premier and Cabinet, tasking the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions with responsibility for its design and implementation.
‘The uncontested evidence is that Ms Mikakos played no role in the making of those decisions.’
Ms Mikakos said the failure to follow ‘ordinary Cabinet-led decision-making processes’ was the cause of the differing views which had been given by witnesses as to who had overall responsibility and accountability for the Hotel Quarantine Program.
‘The fact that no such Cabinet, or Cabinet Committee, process was engaged for the setting up of the Hotel Quarantine Program is the root cause of some of the issues which have been ventilated before the Board in the course of this Inquiry,’ Ms Mikakos stated.
Jenny Mikakos cast blame onto her former department boss Kym Peake
Australian Defence Force troops had been on offer from before the hotel program began
Former health minister on Premier’s evidence
The Premier’s evidence that he regarded Ms Mikakos as accountable for the Hotel Quarantine Program following the Crisis Council of Cabinet meeting on 8 April 202025 is not consistent with the joint submission endorsed by the Crisis Council of Cabinet on that date, which expresses an intention that the DJPR should ‘continue to retain its responsibility.
Nor is it consistent with the fact of the endorsement of subsequent joint submissions concerning the Hotel Quarantine Program to the Crisis Council of Cabinet presented by Ms Mikakos and Minister Pakula on a number of occasions subsequent to that time.
If the Premier’s understanding was based on Ms Mikakos’s reporting of generic data to the Crisis Council of Cabinet over time (in line with her accountability for the overarching pandemic response), it is submitted that this is an insufficient basis on which to conclude that Ms Mikakos was solely accountable for the Hotel Quarantine Program, especially in the face of the matters addressed above.
The former health minister further claimed Australia Defence Force assistance was on offer from before the program began.
In August, the premier told a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing that claims Australia Defence Force personnel had been offered to man Victoria’s hotels was wrong.
‘[It’s] fundamentally incorrect to assert that there were hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow, someone said no,’ he said at the time.
‘ADF assistance in the enforcement of mandatory hotel quarantine was clearly an available and cost-free resource that was an alternative to (or could have complemented the use of) another workforce,’ Ms Mikakos stated.
‘The decision not to use the ADF should be considered by the Board as being inextricably linked to the decision to use private security.
‘This decision had substantial cost and resource implications for the State and it is inherently unlikely, if not implausible, that such a decision would be the result of a ‘creeping assumption’ rather than a considered choice at an elevated level of government.’
Ms Mikakos continued to deny she had any knowledge that private security was being used at hotels despite her appearance at a press conference alongside Mr Pakula on March 29.
‘Minister Pakula (not Ms Mikakos) made the announcement that day about the Hotel Quarantine Program, and in doing so, mentioned security arrangements,’ she stated.
‘Such evidence does not conflict with Ms Mikakos’s evidence that she first became aware of (and first had reason to turn her mind to) the use of private security in the Hotel Quarantine Program following the Rydges outbreak in late May 2020.’
A man trapped in a Flemington public housing unit after the second wave broke out of Melbourne hotels
Shocking video and photos showing hotel quarantine security guards asleep on the job lay bare the depth of bungled program
Ms Mikakos further indicated she and other ministers had not cross-examined Mr Andrews during the inquiry for fear it would be ‘politically disadvantageous’ or ‘improper.’
‘Accordingly, the Board should critically review the evidence of the Premier and the Ministers … where that evidence is at odds with other evidence,’ she stated.
In hindsight, Ms Mikakos said it would have been desirable for there to have been a ‘centralisation of the various roles and responsibilities to one Department’ in organising the hotel program.
‘The fact is that the contracts were under the responsibility of the DJPR, and no proposal for their transfer was put to the Minister at any time prior to the outbreaks,’ she stated.
‘The mere fact that this did not occur prior to the outbreaks does not connote a failing by the DHHS or its Minister. Once the matter was elevated to her as an issue she took decisive action.’
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