Victorian Government Economist Resigns After Being Told to Remove Critical Social Media Posts

September 17, 2020 Updated: September 17, 2020

An economist who worked with Victoria’s state Treasury for almost 15 years has resigned after his social media posts scrutinising the government’s strict response to the CCP virus were prohibited by the Victorian public service.

Sanjeev Sabhlok last week resigned from his position of Senior Manager in Economic Strategy, with the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance, following a meeting with the head of human relations.

Epoch Times Photo
Police officers and soldiers patrol Treasury Gardens as they enforced strict lockdown laws in Melbourne, Australia on Aug. 5, 2020. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Indian-born, Sabholk posted his resignation letter to Premier Daniel Andrews on Twitter, “Dear Dan, I served your government as an economist till Sept. 10 2020 but have resigned to protest your Police State,” he wrote.

“I did not come to Australia to be a slave of whimsical government. You have not implemented risk-based management, no evidence-based policy, no cost-benefit analysis. No justification. Just whimsy,” he continued.

The experienced public policy adviser in a later post to Twitter said that it is unfortunate that he had to leave the department and the role he loved to speak out.

State government guidelines on social use note, “staff must not do anything that may adversely affect their standing as a public official or which could bring themselves or the public sector into disrepute,” writes the Victoria Public Sector Commission.

In an opinion piece on Sept. 16 in the Australian Financial Review, Sabhlok said that the head of human resources asked him during a meeting to remove his social media posts.

“I considered deleting the few direct criticisms, but they wanted all indirect criticism removed too. I resigned on the same day, the only honourable course for a free citizen of Australia,” he said about the meeting.

Sabhlok described Australia’s, in particular, Victoria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as “the most heavy-handed possible, a sledgehammer to kill a swarm of flies,” he wrote.

At the time of this publication, Australia—a population of around 25 million, has recorded 26,813 virus cases, and 832 deaths. The majority of these are from Victoria with just below 20,000 cases and 745 deaths.

Stage four lockdown started Aug. 2 after a series of strict measures to control the spread of the virus.

Measures include mandatory masks everywhere in public, no travel beyond five kilometres, and only two hours outdoors for exercise unless it’s for work, essential shopping, or care-seeking or giving.

Sabhlok wrote in a Twitter post that COVID-19 spread was a chance to devise different responses to China where the virus originated.

“This was the opportunity to showcase the better way of thinking in the West, to be a role model. Unfortunately, by copying China’s totalitarian approach, the West has said China was right,” he wrote in a Twitter post on Sept. 16.

Sabhlok said he repeatedly raised his views in his public sector capacity, but his attempts were rebuffed.

“The bureaucracy has clamped down on frank and fearless, impartial advice, in a misplaced determination to support whatever the government decides, (instead of performing its taxpayer-funded duty of providing forthright analysis of alternatives), he wrote in his opinion article in the AFR.

Premier Andrews played down that he is not open to public sector advice.

“He’s entitled to his views,” he replied at a press conference Sept. 17. “All Victorians can be assured that we receive frank and fearless advice from the public service each and every day,” Andrews said.

Former state government Economist, Sabhlok’s posts on Twitter questioned the Andrews government’s risk assessment of the COVID-19 outbreak, pointing aim at the effectiveness of lockdowns. Noting, “The science of pandemics is clear: lockdowns do not kill the virus,” he wrote on Sept. 16.