Victoria’s health minister Jenny Mikakos has resigned, pointing the finger at Premier Daniel Andrews’ evidence that hung her out to dry in the hotel quarantine inquiry on Friday.
Mikakos said in a Saturday statement she will also quit parliament.
She said she never wanted to leave a job unfinished but in light of Andrews’ statement to the inquiry “and the fact that there are elements in it that I strongly disagree with, I believe that I cannot continue to serve in his Cabinet”.
“I am disappointed that my integrity has sought to be undermined. I know that my statement [to the inquiry] and evidence would have been uncomfortable for some.”
Andrews told the inquiry in his written statement that after an April 8 cabinet meeting, Mikakos was in charge of the hotel quarantine program, in which private security guards were used. This program went horribly wrong when COVID got out, triggering Victoria’s second wave. Andrews, Mikakos and other witnesses have all said they do not know who made the decision to use private guards.
Andrews said: “At the start of the program, I regarded Minister Mikakos and Minister Pakula as responsible for informing cabinet about, and seeking cabinet’s endorsement of, the initial overall service model and costings that had been determined for the program. They did so at the Crisis Council of Cabinet meeting on 8 April 2020.
“I then regarded Minister Mikakos as accountable for the program. The CCC was provided with regular reports by Minister Mikakos containing data relevant to Victoria’s response to the public health emergency, key insights from the data, as well as other updates, including in relation to the program.”
Mikakos, in her statement posted on Twitter, said: “For 3 months I had looked forward to learning who made the fateful decision to use security guards. Victorians deserve to know who.”
She said she had never shirked her responsibility for her department “but it is not my responsibility alone”.
“As I said to the Board of Inquiry, I take responsibility for my department, the buck stops with me. With the benefit of hindsight, there are clearly matters that my department should have briefed me on. Whether they would have changed the course of events only the Board and history can determine,”
“I look forward to the Board of Inquiry’s final report.”
Mikakos said she was “deeply sorry” for the situation Victorians found themselves in. “In good conscience, I do not believe that my actions led to them.”
On Thursday she told the inquiry she was “not at all” involved in the decision to use private security guards, and “I do not know who made that decision”. She said she didn’t know private security guards were being used until late May after a COVID outbreak at Rydges, almost two months after the program started.
“I can‘t imagine why it [the use of private security guards] would be brought to my attention, because […][the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions] held the contracts with the security companies,” she said.
But her evidence immediately came into question, because she had been at a press conference in late March when the use of private security was confirmed, and private security was mentioned in a briefing note for caucus on April 8. In a statement to the inquiry on Friday, Mikakos denied misleading it.
Andrews announced at a news conference on Saturday afternoon that the Mental Health Minister, Martin Foley, will replace Mikakos as health minister.
Andrews said Mikakos had taken the “appropriate course” in resigning. But he said he had not spoken to her beforehand – or since. She has texted him that she had sent a letter to the governor, of which he was already aware.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Twitter:
But the Health Workers Union, which had called for Mikakos’ resignation earlier this week, welcomed her departure.
Andrews said Labor would aim to have a replacement for Mikakos in the upper house before parliament next meets. Labor’s national executive will formally determine who fills the seat because the state ALP is being federally administered at present.
There will also be a replacement in cabinet, drawn from the upper house.
Foley told the Andrews news conference he had nothing but confidence in the health department and its secretary.
Andrews said the latest Victorian COVID tally was 12 new cases, and he would be making a statement on Sunday about the easing of restrictions. He said there was no dramatic variation from the road map but there were a couple of areas where more could be done.