Victorian Public Service Boss Resigns After Giving False Testimony To Inquiry

Victorian Public Service Boss Resigns After Giving False Testimony To Inquiry
Victorian government, Department of Premier and Cabinet Secretary Chirs Eccles on Sept. 21, 2020. (COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry [CC by 4.0])
Alex Joseph

Victoria's top public servant has quit after the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry requested phone records that revealed he spoke to the Police Chief Commissioner in the lead up to the critical decision to use private security guards.

Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) secretary Chris Eccles resigned on Monday after the Inquiry found he was involved in Melbourne's hotel quarantine system, in contrast to the testimony he gave in September.

Eccles records showed that he spoke to then-Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton for two minutes on March 27, at 1.17 p.m. in the crucial six-minute window where the inquiry has determined that the decision to use private security guards was made for Victoria's quarantine program.

Ashton had previously given evidence declaring he could not recall who he spoke to before 1.20 p.m.

In a resignation statement, Eccles said: "The telephone records do not in any way demonstrate that I, or indeed anyone else in DPC made a decision that private security be used in the hotel quarantine program," he said, reported 9News.

"I am absolutely certain I did not convey to Mr Ashton any decision regarding the use of private security as I was unaware any such decision had been made, and I most certainly had not made such a decision myself," he said.

Premier Andrews released a media statement confirming his resignation. He said Eccles resigned after viewing detailed phone records where he spoke to Ashton.

"Until last night, I had understood that Mr Eccles did not know if he had telephoned Mr Ashton at that time. That matter is now beyond doubt," Andrews wrote.

The board of inquiry have also request phone records from Andrews and his chief of staff Lissie Ratcliff.

Eccles's resignation comes just weeks after former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos stepped down following the final hearing of the inquiry where Andrews gave a testimony stating that responsibility for public health failures lands on her.
A submission by Mikakos said that the board of inquiry should "treat with caution" the Premier's evidence, suggesting that it is implausible no one called for the use of private security guards.
The Hotel Quarantine Inquiry was formed to clarify who decided to use private security instead of Police or Australian Defence Forces. Closing statements made by Assisting counsel Rachel Ellyard on Sept. 28  said that the decision came about through a "creeping assumption."
The director of the University of Melbourne's Microbiological Diagnostic Unit, Benjamin Peter Howden, previously told the inquiry that over 99 percent of all current infections trace back to the outbreak in the Melbourne hotels.
Failures within the program are said to be responsible for the second wave of CCP virus cases which has seen over 800 deaths attributed to COVID-19. The original cost of the inquiry has doubled to around $6 million.
The Australian Associated Press contributed to this article.
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