Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles resigns

12 October 2020

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The resignation comes after Eccles released his phone records to the state's hotel quarantine inquiry.

The secretary of Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles, has resigned effective immediately, saying he believes remaining in his position would be a  “significant distraction” to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

During Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry on 21 September, Eccles said that both he and the Premier’s department did not make the decision to use private security in the quarantine program.

He also said he was unsure whether or not he passed on the ADF’s offer of support.

The inquiry was told on 27 March former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton sent the following texts to Eccles at 1:16pm, regarding the isolation of returned overseas travellers.

“Chris I am getting word from Canberra for a plan whereby arrivals from overseas are to be subjected to enforced isolation from tomorrow,” Ashton sent.

“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 Chief Police Commissioner said he did not receive a reply and could not recall whether he received a phone call regarding the issue of private security.

Eccles also told the inquiry he was unsure whether he called Ashton after the text message.

When questioned by Victoria Police’s lawyer, Dan Star CQ, Eccles told the inquiry he had checked his phone records to determine if he had called Ashton but explained they were incomplete.

“I’m not sure how complete my phone records are. But to the extent that I was able to interrogate my phone records, they didn’t reveal that contact,” he said.

However, in his resignation statement today, Eccles confirms that he did contact former Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton in response to the text sent on the day the hotel quarantine program was set up.

“These records show I called Mr Ashton at 1:17pm and that I spoke with him for just over two minutes,” he said in his resignation statement.

Eccles said that although the records show he spoke to the Chief Commissioner, they do not show that he or anyone in the Premier’s department are responsible for 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,” he said.

The inquiry’s request was made after Daniel Andrews faced questions about his own phone records on Friday during his exchange with Sky News host Peta Credlin, where he explained his call history hadn’t been requested yet.

Ed O’Donohue, Shadow attorney-general said the resignations of Eccles and former Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos suggest the controversy is now moving more towards Daniel Andrews.

“With those closest to Daniel Andrews being forced to resign, more and more of his story simply doesn’t add up,” he said.

“It’s now incumbent on the Premier to explain again exactly what he knew and when, and hopefully this time he doesn’t have a severe bout of amnesia.”

The full statement from Chris Eccles AO can be found HERE.

Story by: Aisling O’Mahony and Peter White.

Photo: The Australian House of Representatives at the Australian Parliament by Aditya Joshi available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.