Sky News host Peta Credlin has turned the screws on Premier Daniel Andrews as to why key phone records were withheld from Victoria's hotel quarantine inquiry.
Mr Andrews was grilled by Credlin, who was once former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott’s chief-of-staff, on why phone records were not tendered to the hotel quarantine inquiry which might reveal who decided to use private security.
Mr Andrews seemingly avoided a series of questions on the hotel quarantine scandal during his daily press conference in Melbourne on Friday.
Peta Credlin has taken Premier Daniel Andrews to task at a press conference in Melbourne on Friday
Timeline to disaster: How the decision to employ private security came to be
Premier Daniel Andrews swore on the bible at the inquiry to tell the whole truth and nothing but it
He insisted that phone records had not been requested by the inquiry.
'At any point where this inquiry has sought more from the government, the answer has been yes,' Mr Andrews said.
The premier said he did not believe his phone records were requested to be turned over to the inquiry.
In a heated exchange, Credlin continued to press the premier to hand over the phone records to 'clear up' six crucial minutes where the decision to use private security guards appeared to have been made.
'For the avoidance of doubt, are you (Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary) Chris Eccles, and indeed your chief of staff prepared to prove your outgoing calls in that six minute period,' she asked.
Mr Andrews snapped back that he had not been asked to hand them over.
'I am confident that if they believe there is a deficiency in the, or incompleteness in terms of the picture that they are working with, it is within their power to raise those matters,' he said.
Under the law, the inquiry does not actually have the power to ask Mr Andrews for his phone records.
'It is not a power or ability open to Justice Coate,' Credlin told the premier.
'But you as an individual, your chief of staff and Mr Eccles can willingly provide that information now and completely clear up this six minute period that has been I think the subject of a lot of debate.'
The premier said 'no such request had been made' from the inquiry board, which is headed by former judge Justice Jennifer Coates.
'Well why wouldn't you provide them anyway?' Credlin asked.
'All requests that have been made by the independent inquiry have been adhered to,' Mr Andrews said.
The stoush followed a suggestion by former health minister Jenny Mikakos that Mr Andrews may have lied to the inquiry.
In August, on the final day of the hotel quarantine inquiry, Mr Andrews said he regarded Ms Mikakos and jobs minister Martin Pakula responsible for the hotel program when it began that weekend in March.
But in an extraordinary response to the inquiry's closing submissions last week, Ms Mikakos said it was 'implausible' to suggest that no one made the decision to use private security in the failed quarantine program.
Bumbling security guards took COVID-19 home with them and spread it through the community
Peta Credlin has turned a blowtorch on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during his press conference on Friday
Quarantine breaches involving private security guards seeded 99 per cent of Victoria's deadly second wave of COVID infections, which in turn has led to more than 800 deaths of the elderly.
The bungle is estimated to be costing Victoria anywhere up to $400 million a day with fears the current lockdown could run as high as $25 billion.
Dozens of security guards ended up catching coronavirus from quarantined returned travellers while working in the hotels.
The decision not to use the ADF should be considered by the Board as being inextricably linked to the decision to use private security.
'First, it is implausible to assert that 'the use of private security [was] not really a decision at all', but rather was 'arrived at by way of a creeping assumption, that took hold over a period perhaps a couple of hours, and that wasn't questioned by anyone',' Ms Mikakos stated.
'The Board ought to treat with caution the Premier's evidence where he sought to explain the reference to the use of private security in the Hotel Quarantine Program made by him during his media conference that commenced at 3 pm on 27 March 2020.'
Mr Andrews had told the board he did not know why he mentioned private security at his press conference, but insisted he had not made the decision to use private security.
'It is submitted that had the decision not already been made by that time, the Premier would not have announced the use of private security in the program,' Ms Mikakos stated.
In a long winded and self-serving document, Ms Mikakos pointed the finger at everyone and anyone over the failed hotel program.
'Some of these matters speak to a failure of ordinary principles of departmental reporting and accountability,' she stated.
'In this case, such failures occurred in extraordinary circumstances, in which the State of Victoria was facing an unprecedented global pandemic.'
Former health minister Jenny Mikakos quit after Daniel Andrews blamed her for the deadly second wave of COVID-19
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Jobs minister Martin Pakula's department was responsible initially for the hotel quarantine program
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First, it is implausible to assert that 'the use of private security [was] not really a decision at all', but rather was 'arrived at by way of a creeping assumption, that took hold over a period perhaps a couple of hours, and that wasn't questioned by anyone'.