The dominoes are falling in Victoria. The truth is beginning to escape the confines of the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry. After Peta Credlin’s appearance at last Friday’s press conference, Premier Daniel Andrews and a number of other senior staff were asked to provide their phone records by the Board of Inquiry. An astonishing development, given it came within two days of Credlin’s new line of questioning. These phone records have ultimately proven that Chris Eccles, Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, made a call to former Police Commissioner Graham Ashton at 1:17pm on March 27, the day the hotel quarantine was announced, a time which fell squarely in the key 6 minute period that was unaccounted for.
After this revelation, this morning Eccles, the head of the public service in Victoria, resigned from his position effective immediately. As Premier, Daniel Andrews is responsible for Chris Eccles, yet seems unwilling to take any responsibility for the Victorian head of public service, a man who was on a salary of $600k+ a year. For perspective, that is more than the Premier himself makes, even with his recent pay rise. Upon the announcement of this major resignation, the implosion of the Victorian Labor Party has commenced. Victorian Labor MPs have reportedly begun to do the numbers, calling for Daniel Andrews’ resignation. At his daily presser, it only got worse for him when Peta Credlin made a triumphant return.
At the presser Credlin asked Andrews about Eccles and his fated phone call. She discussed how Eccles had been in the room with Daniel Andrews at the National Cabinet meeting on March 27, and left the room at 12pm, prior to the meeting’s end, after having a conversation with the Premier. He then spoke to Andrews’ Chief of Staff, who still has not appeared at the Inquiry once, who in turn spoke to Simon Phemister, the Secretary of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions. Eccles also made a call at 1:17pm to former Chief Police Commissioner Graham Ashton, a call in which he clearly told Ashton something significant, given Eccles was the only person Ashton had any contact within the fated 6 minute period, and Ashton proceeded to contact AFP head Reece Kershaw shortly after. At 12:36 pm, one of the private security companies that ended up obtaining a $30 million contract, Unified Security, was given a heads up about the Federal Government’s COVID-19 control course would have to be completed in order to gain the contract. They told their private security that they would have to complete the course by 2:30pm. There is no reasonable excuse to justify the notion that the security company would have been told about this opportunity before the National Cabinet meeting concluded.
In that same vein, at 2pm that afternoon, Police Minister Lisa Neville met with Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp and Graham Ashton and made the call that police would not be used for the hotel quarantine program, rather private security would be favoured. This all occurred prior to the announcement by the Prime Minister that hotel quarantine would be put in place, and prior to Daniel Andrews’ own press conference where he himself announced that private security would have a part to play. This is something that he continues to be in denial about when questioned on it, as was evident when Credlin brought it up today. It is clear Daniel Andrews knows far more than he is letting on.
Peta Credlin appears to have a strategy here. She is asking questions that will provoke a response from the Board of Inquiry. When she asked Andrews about the phone records on Friday, the Board requested them within two days. Today, she focused in on Andrews’ Chief of Staff. It would be unsurprising if his Chief of Staff is hauled before the Inquiry in the next few days. In addition to this, she raised an issue with the phone records, given that Telstra cannot provide encrypted messages. That falls under the Telecommunications Act, which is Commonwealth legislation. Credlin thereby asked the Premier if both he and his senior staff would provide their devices to the Inquiry, to ensure that these messages can also be retrieved. Andrews claimed he would provide what is necessary, so this may occur and is yet to be seen. Despite this, Andrews is likely teetering on the edge of a cliff right now, dangerously close to falling over the edge. He may find himself forced out of the leadership by his own Party very soon.
But Andrews is not the only Premier in the spotlight today. In news that is sure to surprise, it appears NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian may also be on her way out. Fronting the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) today on the matter of former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, who resigned over corruption and was expelled from the Liberal Party, Berejiklian admitted to having a ‘close personal relationship’ with the former MP. In addition to phone taps that were played at the ICAC, this has impacted on the view of Berejiklian’s judgement. Despite her capable and measured response to COVID-19 in NSW, this link to a corrupt MP may just sink her political career. Talks are already reportedly underway as to replacing her, with Senior NSW Liberals being reported to have said her tenure as Premier is over. Names are already emerging as potentially replacements, including NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman, and the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes. Berejiklian appears defiant, with reports saying she does not plan on resigning and that she believes she can survive this politically, however, it seems unlikely. At best, she will remain until the next State election, where she will likely be replaced as Premier beforehand. It would be somewhat of a shame if she is sacked or has to resign, given she has been one of the only Premiers with common sense throughout this COVID-19 crisis. If she is to be replaced, her replacement must ensure that he/she will follow in her stead and oppose unnecessary and arbitrary lockdowns and restrictions.
It would seem apparent that Australia may be about to lose two Premiers in the same short period of time. In a year that has been completely absurd, it would be peak 2020 if Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews were both overthrown. Australia is no stranger to changes in leadership mid-term, so it would not be completely surprising. Essentially, if Gladys must go for this, Daniel Andrews must go for the 800+ deaths that have been caused by his utter lack of competence in his quest for ultimate power in Victoria.
They say lightning never strikes twice. It would appear that does not apply to politics.