Mon, 12 Oct, 2020

Vic's top public servant resigns "effective immediately"

Vic's top public servant resigns "effective immediately"

The secretary of Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet Chris Eccles has resigned, saying he feels staying in the position would be a “significant distraction to the ongoing work of the Victorian public sector”.

Mr Eccles fronted the state’s hotel quarantine inquiry in September, and stated neither he nor the Premier’s department made the decision to use private security in the program.

He also revealed that he was unaware whether or not he passed on a Commonwealth offer of ADF support in early April.

The inquiry was told that on March 27, the day the hotel quarantine program was introduced, the chief police commissioner Graham Ashton texted Mr Eccles at 1:16 pm saying: 

"Chris I am getting word from Canberra for a plan whereby arrivals from overseas are to be subjected to enforced isolation from tomorrow.

The suggestion is Victorian arrivals are conveyed to a hotel Somewhere where they are guarded by police for 14 days.

Are you aware of anything in this regard?? Graham."

In a written statement the the hotel quarantine inquiry, Mr Ashton said he did not receive a response to the message and couldn’t remember if anyone rang him about the private security arrangements.

Mr Ashton's evidence said at 1:22pm, he texted Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw and said:

"Mate my advise [sic] is that ADF will do Passenger transfer and private security will be used."

Mr Eccles also told the inquiry that he could not remember whether he called Mr Ashton after receiving the message, but records show he called him for two minutes at 1:17 pm that day.

"There has been much commentary and speculation about whether I or anyone else at [the Department of Premier and Cabinet] spoke to Mr Ashton during that narrow timeframe on 27 March," Mr Eccles said in his resignation statement.

"It is now evident I did."

Mr Eccles said he did not have his full phone records until the hotel quarantine inquiry requested them on Saturday.

But he went on to say that while the records show the did call the then chief commissioner on March 27, it does not show that he or anyone in the Premier’s department made the decision to use private security.

"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," Mr Eccles said.