Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet deputy secretary Jeremi Moule will step up to lead the state public service following the resignation of Chris Eccles on Monday.
In a heartfelt internal message announcing his departure to his colleagues, Eccles reflected on the huge task public servants have been dealt with in 2020.
“This has been a horribly challenging year. Bushfires followed by coronavirus have tested us, the latter in ways we’ve never confronted before. Our response hasn’t always been perfect, and rightly the actions of senior public service leaders have been scrutinised to determine what we might have done better,” he wrote.
“But while those processes have focussed on the few, my focus is on the reality that public sector workers have skillfully adapted and responded to the enormous challenges of 2020.
“Public servants have shown a great willingness to contribute wherever needed during our emergency response. Many have found innovative ways to maintain core business activities. Our health professionals have been confronted very directly by COVID-19. Our teachers have had to deliver lessons remotely. In so many ways, as we so often do during emergencies, we have seen the best of our profession.”
Eccles announced his resignation on Monday morning after his phone records revealed he had a brief telephone conversation with then-police chief commissioner Graham Ashton on the day it was decided or assumed that private security guards would be used for the state’s hotel quarantine system.
The senior mandarin issued a public statement maintaining that he was “absolutely certain” that he didn’t convey to Ashton any decision regarding the use of private security, and that he did not make the decision himself.
In the message to his colleagues, Eccles reiterated that the evidence he gave to the hotel quarantine inquiry was correct in light of the information contained in his phone records.
“I stand by the totality of the evidence I gave at the inquiry … while detailed phone records received over the weekend have confirmed that I made a call to former chief commissioner of police Graham Ashton, that fact is both consistent with the evidence I gave on that matter and doesn’t change any of the evidence I gave on other matters,” he wrote.
“I do however know that the issue and my actions will be a continued point of public commentary and scrutiny … As hard as the decision to resign is, it is clear in my mind that I do not want a focus on me to, in any way, undermine the extraordinary work of the public sector and the preparations of all Victorians for the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.”
He said it has been a privilege to lead the VPS, and to work with “extraordinary” public servants.
“The level of dedication, sense of purpose and amazing capabilities on display every day have been an inspiration,” he said.
Eccles also announced that Moule would take on the role of acting secretary.
Prior to being appointed deputy secretary, governance policy and coordination group in 2018, Moule was executive director of DPC’s strategic communication, engagement and protocol branch. He has also held a similar role at South Australia’s DPC.
During COVID-19 Moule has also led a Public Sector Administration Committee, which has been the primary decision making forum for VPS whole-of-government matters during the pandemic.