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Ex-minister, top cop question responsibility for Victoria's hotel quarantine fiasco

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Victoria’s former health minister has accused Premier Daniel Andrews of “political deflection” over the bungled hotel quarantine program which led to the virus escaping, killing 800 and sending the state into a three-month lockdown, while the former police commissioner says whoever made the private security call was “determined to stay anonymous”.

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Jenny Mikakos hit out at her old boss on Monday night, hours after the release of the final report into the scandal that ultimately led to her resignation.

She said the $5.7 million inquiry had “failed to answer key questions”, with retired judge Jennifer Coate unable to identify a single person responsible for the fatal decision to use private security guards in the program.

Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus, which resulted in more than 18,000 new infections and 800 deaths, was triggered by security guards who became infected at the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels in May and June.

“I believe Victorians deserve to know the truth about an event that has so profoundly impacted them,” Mikakos said in a statement.

“They do not need another masterclass in political deflection from the premier.”

She’s called on the inquiry to release Andrews’ redacted phone records from March 27, the day before the hotel quarantine program began, for the sake of public transparency.

Mikakos, DHHS secretary Kym Peake and Department and Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles have already quit over the scandal.

If they hadn’t already done so, Andrews said he would have requested and accepted the resignations of Mikakos and Peake.

Despite the report effectively clearing Andrews, Mikakos and other senior ministers of making the decision to hire guards, Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien is calling for the premier to follow their lead.

“No political leader should be able to survive this type of failure,” he told reporters.

But Andrews is standing firm.

“Not only will I not resign, because that is just not who I am, I’ll be on the ballot in 2022,” he said.

Former Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton also queried how no one was found responsible for the fateful decision to hire private security firms to manage hotel quarantine.

“Disappointingly, that person (who made the decision) seems determined to remain anonymous,” Ashton told The Australian.

Ashton gave evidence to the Coate inquiry that he sent a message to AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw on March 27 as the program was being established, telling him he thought it was the Department of Premier and Cabinet that had set up a deal to use private security at the quarantine hotels.

Coate made 12 recommendations on top of 69 in the inquiry’s interim report, including updating Victoria’s pandemic plan and further exploring mandatory testing for returned travellers.

In addition, she wants the Public Sector Commissioner to examine the inquiry’s evidence as to the lines of accountability and responsibility between departmental heads and ministers.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp should also be tasked with clarifying language used in Victoria’s emergency management manual to ensure there is no ambiguity about the role and responsibility of a control agency.

Andrews said his government plans to adopt all 12 recommendations, after spending the summer considering the report in detail.

-with AAP

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