So it’s come to this: police stationed outside the home of Queensland’s top public servant, tailing her in order to keep her safe while she determines the state’s border policy.
Thus far, chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young has done a sterling job of keeping Queensland relatively COVID-free. That’s not at issue. This issue is: is this her job? Should a public servant take over the role of a premier, whose ambit is surely wider than any specific policy area?
This is a health crisis first and foremost, but it’s also an economic crisis, a conundrum for schools, a mental health minefield and a dozen other things.
So why has one public servant been handed a role where she is being forced to make decisions on more than health. This is the role Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has given her; a role Palaszczuk has all but admitted trumps her own during COVID-19.
Last week Young admitted that athletes and Hollywood stars allowed into the state, on exemptions, brought in “a lot of money’’. Where’s the health imperative there? Surely that’s a decision about the economy, not the spread of the virus?
Many Queenslanders hitting out at the government over its border stance want the borders to remain closed. They’re not arguing for a free-for-all, as it is now being painted. They just want an an end to the inconsistencies that favour the rich and famous over a mother who cannot hold the hand of her seven-year-old who is having radiation therapy.
This isn’t Young’s fault. She has been put in this position by a government that has abdicated responsibility for being the final arbiter of policy.
So where does this end? Why not let the state’s chief scientist determine climate change policy? Or the top education bureaucrat have the final say on teacher’s wages? Or its top cop write her own cheque to fight crime?
Voters elect politicians, who elect their leader. And public servants should be granted the respect to provide advice without fear or favour in their area of expertise. They are not there to act as a shield for politicians during tricky crises.
Six weeks out from the state ballot, Young has been sandwiched in an election campaign, and been made the face of Queensland’s daily contradictions on border policy.
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It’s done no favours for a highly talented public servant, widely tipped within government to be appointed the state’s next governor — a post she truly deserves.
As time drags on, and as Palaszczuk is the subject of another targeted headline, it might not do any favours for the government, either.