Australia

Victorian mental health minister Martin Foley replaces health minister Jenny Mikakos following resignation

Victorian mental health minister Martin Foley will replace Jenny Mikakos as health minister after she resigned from the position. Source: AAP

Premier Daniel Andrews says he was informed of Jenny Mikakos' decision to resign by text message, adding that he believes she took 'the appropriate course of action'.

Victorian mental health minister Martin Foley is replacing Jenny Mikakos as health minister after she resigned from the position, following Premier Daniel Andrews' testimony that she was "accountable" for the bungled hotel quarantine scheme. 

In a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday morning, Ms Mikakos said she had written to the Governor of Victoria to resign as minister effective immediately. She would also be resigning from parliament, she said.

"I have never wanted to leave a job unfinished but in light of the premier's statement to the Board of 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," the statement read.

"I have never shirked my responsibility for my department but it is not my responsibility alone."

Speaking to reporters after Ms Mikakos' announcement, Mr Andrews said she informed him of her decision by text message. 

"She's a very, very hard working person and I'm grateful for her efforts," he said.

"Whether I thought it appropriate or not, she resigned this morning and I believe that is the appropriate course of action. She obviously believes it's the appropriate course of action."

The Premier told the inquiry on Friday that Ms Mikakos was responsible for the botched hotel quarantine program, which led to Victoria's second wave of COVID-19, more than 700 deaths, and strict lockdowns across the state.

He said the health minister was "accountable" for the program, known as Operation Soteria, despite testimony from Ms Mikakos who said there was "shared accountability" between her department and the Department of Jobs, Precincts, and Regions, which contracted the hotels and security companies.

"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," Mr Andrews said.

"I then regarded Minister Mikakos as accountable for the program."

The inquiry has so far been unable to determine who made the decision to hire private security guards, rather than use police or Australian Defence Force personnel, to guard returning travellers during their compulsory 14-day quarantine. 

In her statement on Saturday, Ms Mikakos said she was disappointed that her "integrity has sought to be undermined".

"For three months I had looked forward to learning who made the fateful decision to use security guards. Victorians deserve to know who," she said.

"I am deeply sorry for the situation that Victorians find themselves in. In good conscience, I do not believe my actions led to them."

Mr Foley, the incoming health minister, said he was looking forward to working with Victorians under "enormously difficult circumstances" to achieve a "COVID-normal reopening" in the state. 

A number of Victorian MPs, and Ms Mikakos' NSW counterpart Brad Hazzard, issued statements in support of the outgoing Minister on Saturday, describing her as an "amazing servant" without personal ambition.

“Few people have worked as hard or have more passion for helping others,” Oakleigh MP Steve Dimopoulos said. “I’ve never seen a hint of personal ambition, just an ambition to do good. Proud to call you a friend, Jenny.”

Member for Bentleigh Nick Staikos said he was "saddened" by the way Ms Mikakos' career had ended. "She is a person of integrity who has worked her guts out while carrying the extraordinary weight of an unprecedented health crisis on her shoulders," he said.

Mr Hazzard, the NSW health minister, responding to the resignation, targeted Mr Andrews, stating that his assertion that Ms Mikakos was responsible for the bungle "lacks logic". "How could a health minister direct police to be involved," he asked on Twitter.

"Sorry to see Jenny Mikakos resign. She has worked tirelessly in this pandemic," he said.

Meanwhile, Victoria's opposition is calling for Mr Andrews to follow Ms Mikakos and resign. "It's about time this Premier took responsibility for what he's done to this state. It's about time he followed Jenny Mikakos out the door and give Victoria a fresh start," opposition leader Michael O'Brien said on Saturday. 

Mr Andrews, however, dismissed the calls, stating: "I don't run from problems and challenges". 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about Ms Mikakos' resignation while addressing media in Adelaide but said it was a matter for Victoria. "I don't think it helps, my commentary on those matters," he said. 

Victoria recorded 12 new coronavirus infections and one death on Saturday, as the state prepares for the easing of some restrictions, including a possible staged return to school for some students, from Monday. 

The state's coronavirus death toll is now 782. 

Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 9pm and 5am.

During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.

Between 5am and 9pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative. The full list of restrictions can be found hereAll Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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