Victorian Health Officer May Face Probe For Comparing Cook to CCP Virus

May 1, 2020 Updated: May 1, 2020

Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen may face an investigation from Victoria’s Public Sector Commission for her controversial remarks on Twitter on April 29, in which she compared Captain Cook coming to Australia in 1770 to the CCP virus pandemic.

On April 29, van Diemen wrote on Twitter: “Sudden arrival of an invader from another land, decimating populations, creating terror. Forces the population to make enormous sacrifices & completely change how they live in order to survive. COVID 19 or Cook 1770?”

Victoria’s Public Sector Commission will investigate whether van Diemen contravened the Public Administration Act.

The Australian reported on May 1 that acting public sector commissioner Julia Griffith responded in writing to the request for an investigation into the comments from James Newbury, shadow assistant minister for freedom of information.

Griffith wrote: “The commission will consider the matters you have raised in accordance with the objectives, functions and powers of the Victorian Public Sector Commission under the Public Administration Act 2004. Following these considerations, I will advise you further.”

Critics Want Her Fired

The comments on Twitter came as Australia celebrates the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival to Australia. It sparked strong criticisms from both state and federal politicians.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also voiced disapproval.

Morrison told Alan Jones at 2GB Radio on May 1 that he found the comments “very disappointing.”

He said van Diemen was doing an applaudable job as a medical officer in Victoria and she should keep to her expertise, as “those sort of comments don’t inspire confidence.”

On the same day, Peter Dutton expressed his disapproval on Nine’s Today program, saying van Diemen was “unfit” for her position.

“I think she should go. I think it’s pretty obvious in the middle of a pandemic the second highest medical officer in the state of Victoria should be concentrating on the people of Victoria and the crisis associated with COVID-19,” he said.

Earlier on, Victorian Liberal frontbencher Tim Smith described the comments as ill-timed and “disgraceful.”

“What’s with the culture wars [expletive] from a state health bureaucrat at a time like this?'” he said on Twitter on April 30. “Comparing the extraordinary first voyage of Captain Cook where he charted the East Coast of [Australia] for the first time to a deadly virus is disgraceful.”

Victoria’s Shadow Minister for Health Georgie Crozier called on the deputy chief health offer to stand down, saying she should not be “political.”

“The Deputy CHO’s comments are divisive. She holds a senior position giving advice to the Premier and ministers on COVID-19 that are impacting all Victorians. She should be impartial, not political,” she wrote on Twitter on April 30.

Federal Liberal member for Higgins Katie Allen shared the same view, saying it was not appropriate for a public health expert to make such political comments.

“Sensational comments like this are unhelpful at a time when our public health experts should be focused on an appropriate response to COVID – not using a health crisis to make a political statement,” she wrote on Twitter on April 30.

Supporters Say Criticisms are Irrelevant

Among the critics were supporters, including the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. He dismissed the criticism against van Diemen, saying she posted them on her day off.

“My priorities are very clear, and that’s not changing,” he said at a press conference on May 1. “People have died, so many people are out of work, we’re a long way from the end of this, that’s what’s dominating my thinking, not tweets,” he said.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos also said the criticism of van Dieman is irrelevant.

“The Deputy Chief Health Officer is doing an outstanding job protecting Victorians from this deadly pandemic. Criticism from angry MPs is irrelevant to the fight against this virus,” she posted on her Twitter on April 30.

Van Diemen was appointed as Deputy Chief Health Officer in November 2019. She has worked at the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services since March 2016.