Big questions about Qld Chief Health Officer’s judgment – Premier needs to show leadership

Queensland’s border restrictions with ACT (and arguably with NSW, too) were always a huge over-reaction and the events of yesterday revealed their tragic consequences, with a young woman prevented from attending her father’s funeral, even though the risk of her spreading coronavirus was negligible. On this blog, both myself and my good friend Joe Branigan have commented on the problem of the Premier and Health Minister deferring to an unelected bureaucrat, the Chief Health Officer (CHO), and evading responsibility for making the value judgments and policy decisions we elect them to make. They should be accountable in the Parliament for these judgments.

In the absence of political leadership in Queensland, we find the CHO making value judgements, but we are increasingly confused by her public statements and decisions. I suspect she’s under a huge amount of stress and isn’t being consistent in her decision making. Initially, I thought she was obsessed with eliminating any risk of coronavirus, but now we learn that she’s much more Benthamite and utilitarian. The Courier-Mail has reported:

…Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young made the astonishing admission that special treatment was given to Hollywood actor Tom Hanks because “entertainment and film bring a lot of money into this state”.

If the CHO is adopting such a utilitarian framework, then surely she could have let a young woman attend her father’s funeral, given the extremely low risk of any coronavirus transmission. The CHO’s decision has caused a lot of anguish and evoked a feeling of disgust in many Queenslanders and is difficult to justify. As I’ve written before, Chief Medical Officers should make their value judgements clear and Premiers shouldn’t just defer to them. Yesterday we learned the heartbreaking consequences of major failures of judgment and leadership.

For more on the importance of being explicit about value judgments in public policy decision making, check out my latest podcast recording on Economics and Public Policy.

Elected politicians accountable to the Parliament and the people should be making important value judgments, not bureaucrats.

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