Victoria Public Service Boss Diverts Blame at Quarantine Inquiry

September 22, 2020 Updated: September 22, 2020

The Victorian government’s public service chief executive has told the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry he was unaware how private security firms became responsible for quarantine enforcement.

Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) secretary Chris Eccles, who also sits on the state’s COVID-19 response forum, told the inquiry that even at his senior-level he was unable to recollect who decided that private security firms would guard overseas returnees.

When asked critical questions about his office informing then-Police Commissioner Graham Ashton that the DPC had arranged a deal to set up private security before the crucial meeting on March 27, Eccles responded, “I’m not aware.”

The lead adviser also had no recollection of how Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was informed ahead of a scheduled press conference on March 27, that private security guards will be involved.

When pressed further on the decision, Eccles implied the major decision was made collectively rather than down to one person.

“There are a number of core contributors in the emergency management in the issue of securing the hotels that being, an emergency management, Commissioner as the coordinator, DHHS (Department of Human and Health Services) as the controller and Victoria Police as the security experts,” he said.

Eccles explained that neither of those departments has access to all the information for COVID-19 emergency response; they collectively form the state control centre.

“I have a strong view that the concept of collective governance where you’re bringing together the special skills of different actors to deal with complex problems is an important part of how we operate,” he said.

“If there’s been a failure of an acknowledgement jointly and severally around the decision of the collective and I think that’s a fault or a flaw in the design,” Eccles said while concluding he was not talking specifically to the state’s CCP virus response.

The Hotel Quarantine Inquiry, headed by former judge Jennifer Coate, was initiated in early July and is charged with investigating Victoria’s second wave of the COVID-19 virus.

Through genomic sequencing data, over 99 percent of Victoria’s virus cases since June can be traced back to strains found at the returnees hotels.

Since June 1, Victoria has recorded over 18,400 virus cases, and 744 COVID-19 related deaths. This accounts for more than 90 percent of Australia’s CCP virus casualties.

State Premier Daniel Andrews, who has been heavily scrutinised for his strict virus restrictions, fronts the inquiry on Sept. 25 a day after Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday Andrews said: “When I’ll appear before the inquiry I’ll answer the questions as honestly, frankly, clearly, directly as possible.”