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Dan Andrews’ secret text messages on the disastrous hotel quarantine program FINALLY made public

Secret text messages sent by Daniel Andrews to his chief of staff about Victoria’s hotel quarantine have been released by the inquiry into the botched program.

The phone records between the Victorian premier and his right-hand woman Lissie Ratcliff were made public on Friday after additional evidence was provided to the inquiry.   

The then Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles – who resigned as Victoria’s top public servant last month – has also had his phone records released by the inquiry.

Text messages between Mr Andrews and Ms Ratcliff on the evening of March 27 show him telling her to expect updates on logistics of hotel quarantine, such as rooms available, transportation and guidelines for travellers. 

Secret text messages sent by Daniel Andrews to his chief of staff about Victoria’s hotel quarantine program have been released. Mr Andrews pictured addressing the media on Thursday

'How are we going on hotels and midnight tomorrow? Do we have many flights tomorrow. Call if you need to,' a text from Mr Andrews at 8.26pm said

‘How are we going on hotels and midnight tomorrow? Do we have many flights tomorrow. Call if you need to,’ a text from Mr Andrews at 8.26pm said

‘How are we going on hotels and midnight tomorrow? Do we have many flights tomorrow. Call if you need to,’ a text from Mr Andrews at 8.26pm said.

Ms Ratcliff replied: ‘I’ll have updates tonight on number of rooms, transportation, guidelines for leaving rooms, protection for workers, number of expected arrivals [and flights] for Sunday.

‘It’ll only apply to flights landing after midnight so anyone coming in during the day won’t be caught up.

‘Will get you an update as soon as it comes through.’

A summary of the March 27 national cabinet meeting by Department of Health and Human Services bureaucrat Nicole Lynch was mentioned throughout the new tranche of documents, particularly the line: ‘Enforcement by S and T governments keen for police not to babysit but called in as need (eg use private security)’.

Mr Andrews said in his sworn statement he did not take this to be a decision about private security and therefore did not pass it on.

‘Decisions of that kind are of an operational nature in which I do not play a role,’ he wrote.

Former police commissioner Graham Ashton told the inquiry it was Mr Eccles who led him to believe private security would be used.

Ms Ratcliff (pictured) told Mr Andrews on the evening of March 27 to expect updates on logistics of hotel quarantine

Ms Ratcliff (pictured) told Mr Andrews on the evening of March 27 to expect updates on logistics of hotel quarantine

The ex-police chief’s recollection of a phone call at 1.17 pm on March 27 was detailed in a fresh sworn statement tendered to the inquiry on Friday.

It was one of a raft of documents called for by the inquiry in a final attempt to nail down who made the decision that ultimately led to Victoria’s second coronavirus wave.

Mr Ashton wrote that he and Mr Eccles spoke for 136 seconds following a meeting of the national cabinet.

‘At least part of this conversation involved Mr Eccles informing me regarding the potential use of the ADF to guard returned travellers during the transfer from their flights and the use of private security to guard them at the hotels,’ he wrote.

‘But my belief as to what he told me in this regard is based only on the inference which I draw from the contents of the text message which I sent to AFP Commr Reece Kershaw’.

This text to Mr Ashton’s AFP counterpart was sent just minutes after the call with Mr Eccles, saying he had been advised private security would be used.

Recently arrived overseas travellers arrive at the Crown Promenade Hotel in Melbourne in March

Recently arrived overseas travellers arrive at the Crown Promenade Hotel in Melbourne in March

Mr Eccles maintained he could not recall the content of the conversation with Mr Ashton and was adamant he had ‘no knowledge’ of any decision to use police, the ADF, the AFP or private security.

‘I also did not have the expertise to make such decisions,’ he wrote.

The top bureaucrat resigned from his position after his phone records revealed the time of his call, but denied all responsibility. 

Professor Brett Sutton provided a second sworn statement to the inquiry, after he at first gave evidence that he didn’t remember an email exchange with health bureaucrat Euan Wallace about the quarantine program.

In his new statement, Prof Sutton said he did recall emailing Professor Wallace on April 13, but he did not remember this when giving sworn evidence on September 16.

Staff pictured at Melbourne's Stamford Hotel quarantine facility on June 25. Ex-top Victorian civil servant Chris Eccles has also had his phone records made public

Staff pictured at Melbourne’s Stamford Hotel quarantine facility on June 25. Ex-top Victorian civil servant Chris Eccles has also had his phone records made public

‘I now also have some recollection of speaking to Prof Wallace on the matters raised in those emails but do not recall that we came to any resolution or conclusion,’ he said.

He maintained his public health team was not involved in the quarantine program and that they ‘did not have operational control’ over parts of the public health response ‘for which they had a moral and perhaps legal responsibility’.

Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was established within 36 hours of a national cabinet meeting on March 27.

Outbreaks among security and hotel staff at Rydges and Stamford Plaza have been blamed for 99 per cent of Victoria’s COVID-19 second wave.

The second wave resulted in more than 18,000 new infections and 750 deaths.

Victoria has now gone 28 days without detecting any new infections, a benchmark widely cited as eliminating the virus from the community. 

The spread of the virus was only contained after a lockdown lasting more than 100 days.

During that time, five million people in Melbourne were largely confined to their homes. 

The hotel quarantine inquiry board is due to hand down its full report by December 21.

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