Flat White

Annaliese Van Diemen shows covidiocy is contagious

1 May 2020

4:00 PM

1 May 2020

4:00 PM

If you saw my reflection yesterday on the “shame industry’s” degrading of the James Cook 250th anniversary from a celebration to merely an ambivalent, apologetic commemoration, you can be sure my reaction to the now-notorious tweet of Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Annaliese Van Diemen, is one of total disagreement. Likening Cook in 1770 to Covid-19 — the Wuhan virus, that is — was a trite play on words, historically wrong and an inappropriate public expression of political opinion by a senior official who also enjoys a very high media profile because of her role in combating the pandemic.

But the over-the-top reaction of senior members of Victoria’s Liberal opposition is equally wrong, inappropriate and misguided.

Yes, Dr Van Diemen was too clever by half and didn’t think before she pressed the “Tweet” button on what, it appears, was her day off. But surely her being able to express her views freely is what we on the Right consistently advocate.  Freedom of speech is in our DNA.  The right of people to make Covidiots of themselves, therefore, is their unqualified, God-given right.


We conservatives can’t forgive and defend Israel Folau and his Twitter arrogance and stupidity on freedom of speech and conscience grounds if we can’t similarly forgive and defend Dr Van Diemen.  Freedom of speech and thought is absolute, not selective.

The appropriate thing for firebrand Liberal frontbencher Tim Smith was not to demand Van Diemen’s resignation, which was never going to happen anyway, but for her to be taken aside and counselled about the need for her, as a public figure, to keep extraneous personal opinions to herself and concentrate on her vital day job.  If even the Prime Minister thinks she is doing well in that day job, that indicates that she is.  She, therefore, should stick to it and leave commentary to others.

As this has panned out, however, it is the political judgment of the Victorian opposition more being called into question today.  Making a mountain of this Twitter molehill by going against conservative convictions about the sanctity of freedom of speech, looks like opposition attention-seeking for the sake of it.  It doesn’t help the state and national efforts dealing with the Wuhan virus pandemic. It merely highlights their own frustration at being sidelined when Victorians want to see their entire political class concentrating on getting us all to the other side of this pandemic abyss.

The real issue for the Victorian Coalition, therefore, is asking why they are so irrelevant just now, particularly as Australia’s most radical Left premier, Daniel Andrews, has become the most conservative and cautious, even timid, in winding back Victoria’s social lockdown and reopening shuttered business and saving jobs.  That from the outset of this crisis Andrews chose to shut out not just the opposition but non-government MPs in general – voting down state parliament’s attempt to establish a cross-party parliamentary pandemic management committee to scrutinise and suggest (something that even St Jacinda agreed to in the socialist paradise of New Zealand, under the chairmanship of the opposition leader no less) is a disgraceful flexing of authoritarian muscles. Yet there’s been nary a peep about it in the media.

The Victorian shadow health minister, Georgie Crozier, was a trained nurse, midwife, diabetes educator and a health industry consultant in civilian life.  The Baillieu-Napthine health minister and now Liberal upper house leader, David Davis, was highly competent in this role, and in negotiating with the Commonwealth when he wasn’t playing his beloved factional games.  And the leader himself, Michael O’Brien, was an able state treasurer and formerly Peter Costello’s most trusted economic adviser.  They and others could have brought their expertise and wisdom to a bipartisan table at the outset, and they’ve been all but totally ignored, even denigrated, by Andrews and his people, who could not bring themselves to put their partisanship aside for the common cause.

Rather than let his MPs bang on pointlessly about a misguided and silly tweet merely highlight their impotence and irrelevance (and capacity to make silly and misguided tweets of their own), O’Brien should tell them to pull their heads in and pick the right issues on which to chastise and criticise.  As other states loosen their restrictions and reopen for business well ahead of Victoria, the Victorian Liberals should stay true to their free speech principles and just focus on making sure that Victoria emerges from this nightmare in the best possible economic shape with as little personal freedom as possible lost in the post-Wuhan world.

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