Victoria’s most senior public servant says he is unaware how it was decided to use private security in Melbourne’s troubled hotel quarantine program.
Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles appeared before the hotel inquiry today.
He was asked by counsel assisting, Rachel Ellyard, if he knew how the decision to use private security for the scheme came to be made.
“Do you yourself know, Mr Eccles, how it was a decision was reached that private security would be the front tier of enforcement?” Ms Ellyard asked.
“No, I am not aware,” Mr Eccles replied.
Ms Ellyard was further pressed on why he couldn’t explain who was behind the decision to create such a large, costly program.
“A decision to engage private security ended employing thousands of people and costing tens of millions of dollars. Shouldn’t we be able to say who made it, as a matter of proper governance?” she asked.
Mr Eccles replied there were multiple agencies involved in collective decision making on complex problems.
“No one of them is the repository of all information that goes to bear to the question,” he said.
Mr Eccles attended the national cabinet meeting on March 27 in which it was announced hotel quarantine for returned travellers would come into effect.
That same day, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton sent Mr Eccles a text, saying he had word from Canberra about a hotel quarantine plan in which travellers would be guarded by police.
Mr Eccles said at this time, he was aware of the quarantine scheme, but not aware of any plan to use police as guards.
Minutes later, Mr Ashton appeared to have received confirmation that private security — not police — would be used. He couldn’t recall to the inquiry where the information came from.
Mr Ashton then texted Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw saying his advice is that “ADF will do passenger transfer and private security will be used”.
Mr Eccles was asked if he knew at that time of any involvement by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, on details of what Victoria’s security arrangements would be.
“I’m not,” he said.
Originally published as Dan’s man can’t answer key hotel question