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Daniel Andrews is convinced he will not, in his words, “cut and run” before the hotel quarantine inquiry makes its recommendations in three weeks’ time – but it may not be a choice he gets to make.
The inquiry’s quiet moves in the past few days on phone records suggest there may be a few more bombshells before then, and with the resignation of his health minister, Jenny Mikakos, and the head of his department, Chris Eccles, the premier is exposed.
The report is due to be submitted to the government on 6 November. What it says, and how it is received, is likely to determine whether Andrews becomes a victim of the state’s anger over the explosion in cases that prompted the extended lockdown.
The six-minute window
The inquiry wrapped up after 25 hearings at the end of September, and looked set to find that the fateful decision to use private security in the program was not a decision at all, but instead a “creeping assumption” among those involved in the development of the program on 27 March.
However, after the hearings finished, the media began to pinpoint a six-minute window in the early afternoon of 27 March, before the program was announced, when the then police commissioner Graham Ashton was told private security would be used in the program.
Victoria police repeatedly claimed they couldn’t get records of Ashton’s incoming calls that might reveal who he spoke to. When the media, including Guardian Australia, questioned that claim last week, the inquiry began seeking more call records.
The records from Eccles made him realise he had spoken to Ashton in that window. He couldn’t recall what he said, but he said in his resignation statement he hadn’t mentioned private security because he didn’t believe a decision had been made at that point.
Andrews had already lost Mikakos, both from the ministry and from parliament, after his own evidence to the inquiry said responsibility for the program lay with her.
We know the inquiry has sought more records from the premier’s office and from Telstra. The next few days will show whether anyone else will feel the need to resign as a result. But the inquiry may not disclose what it finds in those records until its report is submitted.
Patience wearing thin
Asked directly whether he would resign, Andrews has said he will wait for the report, since the inquiry’s findings may not match the public commentary around it.
“My accountability is very obvious. I want a report to be handed down and then I will take the decisive action to make sure that these sorts of mistakes can never happen again,” he said on Tuesday.
“I’m not doing any cut and run here, just in case any of you were in any doubt. I will get on and get this job done. That’s who I am. That’s what I was elected to do and that will not be changing. That will not be changing.”
But Victoria is not out of the pandemic yet, and there appears to be little appetite among the public, or in Labor, for anyone to replace Andrews at this stage. The premier was still polling well among Victorians in late September, with 62% approving of his handling of the crisis, according to Newspoll.
The Victorian public is fatigued by the endless lockdown, and while the decision to use private security guards has been disastrous, the more important concern will be what the state will do to prevent going into yet another lockdown.
The two issues at the heart of those concerns are the quarantine program and contact tracing. Concerns are growing again around the state’s ability to effectively trace contacts after the outbreak at the Butcher Shop in Chadstone spread to 35 cases over the past few weeks, and has now spread as far as Shepparton in regional Victoria.
In the past few days, Andrews has indicated restrictions will be eased before the case numbers drop to the benchmark he previously outlined, showing he understands people’s willingness to remain in lockdown is wearing thin.
Also working to Andrews’ advantage is the lack of an effective opposition.
On Tuesday he accused the Liberal opposition of engaging in cheap political tactics by setting up 791 Australian flags on a lawn to signify the Victorians who had died from Covid-19. A motion of no confidence in the Victorian parliament introduced by the opposition leader, Michael O’Brien, on Tuesday failed 44 votes to 23.
Andrews may be under intense pressure from some sections of the media and the public, but for the moment he shows no sign of going anywhere.
Source: The Guardian
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