For the last 100 days, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has emerged each and every day to front the press. Since the beginning of Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19, he has provided daily updates, including case numbers and deaths, fielding questions from journalists immediately after. Many a day he has stood at the lectern for anywhere up to an hour or more, dodging questions like they are bullets that will end his political career. He brings a Minister or health official to every presser, likely in the hope that they will be able to provide some distraction from the obvious incompetence occurring within his own Government. He held journalists in contempt, talking down to them, acting as if their questions had no substance. He hid behind the hotel quarantine inquiry, an inquiry he claims to have established not for the avoidance of questions and answers, even though this is exactly what he is using it for. For months we have borne witness to more of the same day in, day out. But today, that all changed.
Earlier this morning, former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said in a final submission to the hotel quarantine inquiry that Daniel Andrews’ testimony should be “treated with caution”. She essentially implied he had lied to the inquiry. In addition, she named Jobs Minister Martin Pakula as bearing a fair amount of responsibility for the bungled hotel quarantine program, including the hiring of private security. Although Mikakos had been thrown under the bus by Andrews, it seemed apparent she was attempting to drag him under there with her. There is nothing worse for a Premier than a Minister scorned. Mikakos is made even more dangerous by the simple fact that she has nothing to lose.
This set up a fresh line of questioning for the press to take on at the looming daily press conference. And so, after the Premier presented the daily update, and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton discussed the epidemiology of the day, the questions began. After Sutton fielded a few questions on various outbreaks and cases, the journalists set their sights on the Premier. As was to be expected, there were several questions asked on the subject of Mikakos and her statement, Daniel Andrews using the inquiry to deflect one after the other. It appeared that this was going to be just another standard press conference where nothing interesting gets answered. But then, a new voice in the press gallery. A familiar voice that likely caused many to do a double take. Enter Peta Credlin.
Peta Credlin, former Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, lawyer, journalist, and presenter of Credlin on Sky News, had turned up to an Andrews presser. And just like that, Day 100 got interesting. Credlin began by asking Daniel Andrews questions in relation to the inquiry and its powers. She told Andrews that in a submission made by Victorian Police overnight, they made it clear that there are not adequate powers to provide the full phone records of former Police Commissioner Graham Ashton. Their submission assert that “prior to 2pm, there was a decision made in relation to the use of private security in hotel quarantine, and that the decision was made and communicated by an individual at or around 1:12pm and 1:22pm”. The submission also makes it clear that the Victorian Inquiries Act does not give the head of the hotel quarantine inquiry, former Judge Jennifer Coate, the powers to get to the evidence of the incoming phone calls of Graham Ashton. This is an important point, considering these phone records are very likely the key evidence to proving a decision, rather than a creeping assumption, was made in relation to the use of private security in the hotel quarantine program, a decision that led to Victoria’s second wave, thousands of cases, and hundreds of deaths. In response to this, Andrews said that if Judge Coate thought she needed further powers, she could ask for them through the appropriate channels. The issue with this, as Credlin immediately pointed out, is that the powers that would be necessary to obtain these all-important phone records are ones that fall under the Telecommunications Interception Act, which is Commonwealth legislation. They are Federal powers, not State ones, and thus Daniel Andrews would not be able to provide these necessary powers to Judge Coate and the Board of Inquiry. What is more, in addition to Graham Ashton’s incoming call record, Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville’s records, Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet Chris Eccles’ records, Daniel Andrews’ Chief of Staff’s records, and the Premier’s own records have not been provided to the inquiry.
It beggars belief that any genuine Inquiry would lack the power to request the key evidence of the matter being investigated. Now it could just be that Daniel Andrews has no knowledge of the Victorian Inquiries Act, which is purely absurd considering he is the Premier of Victoria and has been claiming for months that he set up this inquiry to get answers. However, considering the record of the Premier and his Government, this seems like more than just pure incompetence and lack of understanding. It reeks of a cover-up. Andrews himself said that if a request were made, they would provide the phone records. There is a key six-minute period that is unaccounted for because the phone records have not been provided. If no-one has anything to hide, why not just release all the phone records now and clear this all up?
Credlin then switched to a different topic, that of Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp. In his original evidence to a Parliamentary Inquiry on August 26, Crisp said three times that he had briefed the Police Minister Lisa Neville on the day the decision was made in regard to hotel quarantine, March 27, and March 28. Earlier this week, in a stunning revelation, Crisp completely recanted that evidence and said that he did not brief the Minister over that two-day period. The problem with this is a legal one, and as a lawyer, Peta Credlin was completely around it.
Legally, Andrew Crisp is what is known as a statutory officer. He is not a regular public servant, and thus has a different legal foundation to his work. Under Section 32 of the Emergency Management Act, Crisp is required to continually brief his Minister, that being the Police Minister. By his own admission, Crisp did not brief his Minister in a critical two-day period when Victoria was under a State of Emergency and the apparatus of hotel quarantine was being set up. However, although he had the opportunity to correct the original testimony he provided to the Parliamentary Inquiry within the 24 hours that the Hansard (official record of what is said in Parliament) was provided to him, Crisp waited six weeks to make correct the record, after Lisa Neville gave evidence at the Coate Inquiry in which she made it known she was not briefed on those two days. Daniel Andrews claims Crisp is a man of integrity. A man of integrity would have told the truth the first time around, not six weeks later after the Police Minister had backed him into a corner.
Now under Section 29 of the Emergency Management Act, Andrew Crisp has serious obligations. If in any case he were to neglect his duty, Crisp should be stood down, suspended, or removed from his position. There are provisions in the Act that if he does not adhere to its requirements, which includes briefing his Minister, that he should be suspended, and further, his commission terminated. It is a profoundly serious matter. Crisp has clearly, by a correction given of his own volition, breached the very Act to which he must always adhere. Yet he has not even been investigated over this matter. Daniel Andrews claims that, because he personally does not see this matter in the terms that Andrew Crisp has breached the Act that he as Premier administers, it becomes a matter of confidence, and that he has full confidence in Crisp as Emergency Management Commissioner. This, however, is not how it works. This matter is one of law. It is one of a legal Act to which Crisp must abide but has instead breached. As Premier, Daniel Andrews has a duty to enforce this Act. Just because he does not personally agree with it does not mean the matter rescinds to one of confidence and he can forego his duty as Premier of Victoria. If Andrews does not implicate the ramifications of this Act, then he has no respect for the law, much less the position of Premier.
Today’s press conference was only the beginning of a nightmare for Daniel Andrews. Peta Credlin is doing what many other journalists have failed to do, holding the Premier to account. Tonight, on her program, Credlin said the following: “I am not going to let this go. I will not go away. If I have to go to the Premier’s press conference every day, I will, to get answers, to get to the bottom of this debacle. I will get the truth.”
Credlin is not going to let Daniel Andrews get away with this. She is going to get justice for over 800 people who have died in Victoria, their families and loved ones. She is the hero Victoria has been waiting for.
Daniel Andrews has made a formidable enemy. Peta Credlin will be his downfall.