Inquiry to Release Phone Records That Prompted Eccles to Resign
The COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry board declared phone records that prompted the Victorian government’s former Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) secretary Chris Eccles to resign would be released Friday afternoon.
During the final public hearing on Nov. 27, Assisting Counsel Tony Neal told the inquiry that phone conversations between Eccles and former state Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton would be uploaded onto the official website.
Neal tendered the new evidence into the inquiry, noting that the inquiry had requested “a lot of phone records” that contained “sensitive personal information.”
The new statements and phone details come from Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, Premier Daniel Andrews, as well as his office personnel; Chief of Staff Lissie Ratcliff, Director of Policy Cameron Harrison and a non-executive staff member only referred to as “the senior adviser.”
Victorian government, Department of Premier and Cabinet Secretary Chirs Eccles on Sept. 21, 2020. (COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry [CC by 4.0])
Former DPC boss Eccles resigned after the Hotel Inquiry found out that he had lied in this oral testimony.
It came after a request was made by the board of inquiry last month for himself and Andrews to reveal their phone records.
He told the inquiry he had not spoken to Ashton on the day in question and was not privy to information about arrangements of hotel private security guards. The records showed that this was untrue.
In his resignation statement, Eccles said he did not make the decision to use private security and unaware such a decision had been made.
Since the first public hearing on Aug. 17, there have been three witnesses who worked for the Victorian government step down.
Former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kym Peak gave notice earlier this month, and so did former state Health Minister Jenny Mikakos months prior.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine system was established within 36 hours of a national cabinet meeting on March 27.
Eccles’ records showed that he spoke to 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.
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.
Epidemiology has found that 99 percent of all infections after June trace back to the outbreak in the Melbourne hotels.
The Hotel Quarantine Inquiry is expected to hand down their final report on Dec. 21.