I can hardly believe it. The new Premier of New South Wales, Dominic Perrottet, appeared at a press conference yesterday to announce certain Covid policies and the Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant was not invited. It is important to remember that the Australian media had previously criticised Gladys Berejiklian by claiming that the people of New South Wales wanted an even harder lockdown, one like Victoria. So outraged were the media at Perrottet appearing without the senior bureaucrat, that one reporters asked: “It is a bit disrespectful isn’t it?”
When Perrottet replied dismissing the question, the reporter suggested that it was reasonable during a health crisis to expect the chief health officer to attend major Covid press conferences.
It is not difficult to see the line chosen by the reporter. Denied the opportunity to ask the Chief Health Officer if she agreed with the Premier, the reporter was forced to report on the information provided without the opportunity for any ‘gotcha.’
As a lawyer and political scientist, I believe it’s important to congratulate Perrorett on his decision to appear without a scientific scapegoat. In fact, that decision is perfectly consistent with the highest principles of responsible government.
The Premier is directly responsible to the NSW Parliament and his government is responsible to the people of that State. It is not only appropriate, it is also very ethical for the Premier to take responsibility for the latest decisions of his government in relation to the incidence of covid in NSW. As Chant cannot be held accountable by the people of NSW, whatever she says or does, Perrottet has rightly made himself accountable for the new policies; even if the media are concerned to find their lockdown narrative upended.
Perrottet’s ethical decision should be contrasted with that of the Queensland Premier who leaves the justification for the draconian policies to her Chief Health Officer who was safe behind the seemingly impenetrable shield of science from any questions that could have cast doubt on policies of the Premier and her government, a doubt exemplified by her successful pilfering of football games from other states.
Dr David Long is a retired solicitor and economist.
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