Shortcuts / 29 April 2020

Key People in the COVID-19 Response

There are a few people that have our undivided attention at the moment. We’re talking about the likes of our Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and Minister for Health Greg Hunt. Who are they and what’s their job during this coronavirus crisis. And, on the economic front, there’s Neville Power, the businessman charged with leading the Covid-19 Commission. This week on Squiz Shortcuts we take you through who each of these men are and the role they are playing during this health and economic emergency.

What is the the role of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO)?
The CMO is the country’s highest medical post. They are the principal medical adviser to the Minister of Health and federal department of health.

How is the role appointed?
It’s typically someone who has been a practitioner at the highest level and is well known in their field. A former CMO who comes to mind is Professor John Horvarth who was a high profile medical practitioner when he came to the role, particularly known for being a leader in renal health and was media magnate Kerry Packer’s doctor.

So whilst our CMO is a public servant, it is distinctly different to the job of Secretary of the Department of Health, the most senior person in the department… how do they differ?
The Secretary of the Department of Health is largely a policy and administrative role, their job is to run the department. That means looking at policies to run the primary health care system, which is GPs. They also oversee the running of medicare, the aged care system, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and a whole lot more. Whereas the CMO is a medical position, they’re the people liaising with our best health experts here and around the world to give technical advice.

Who is our CMO Brendan Murphy?
He is a Victorian. He began as a specialist in nephrology – which is kidney health – and then became chief medical officer for St Vincent’s Health in Victoria. He sat on a number of hospital and research boards so has a lot of experience in health administration. Prior to his appointment as Chief Medical Officer in 2016 he was the CEO of Austin Health. But in a strange twist, Brendan Murphy was actually supposed to take up the role as the Secretary of the Department of Health from Feb 2020, until the coronavirus hit… It’s a bit unusual for a CMO to become a department head. But given the health crisis, he has stayed in his role as CMP and the government appointed an Acting Secretary for the time being. So for now, Brendan Murphy is the guy who will be advising the government on this health crisis for the foreseeable future. But he’s not an expert in infectious diseases, and this is where the government is relying on him to consult widely in order to provide the best advice. So for example, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which is made up of the federal chief medical officer and state chief health officers. That committee seeks advice from experts, agrees on advice and then passes it onto the government… it has been meeting around the clock during this crisis. Health Minister Greg Hunt called Professor Murphy “unbelievably frank”. Within the medical profession he’s known as personable, but also willing to stand his ground.

Who is our Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt?
Most will know that our Health Minister is an elected representative. He’s also a Victorian, and has been in parliament for quite some time… he was elected in 2001 to represent the electorate of Flinders which is the area taking in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. He was also named as the inaugural Best Minister in the World recipient at the World Government Summit. Since elected though he’s had a range of portfolio responsibilities including environment, industry, science and now health. He’s been health minister for nearly three years.

Who is the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission chairman Neville Power?
He’s no stranger to high profile jobs – he was the CEO of Fortescue Metals Group from 2011 until 2018. It’s the fourth largest producer of iron ore in the world and he was its second ever CEO after Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest himself. He still lives over in WA and now has a number of board appointments including Chairman of Perth Airport. Other people on the commission are Jane Halton, a former Health Department Secretary whose most recent role was the head of the Finance Department. Greg Combet who is a former Labour Minister who now works in the superannuation industry, Paul Little who used to head up Toll and has a lot of experience with logistics. Catherin Tanner, who heads up Energy Australia, she also sits on the Reserve Bank of Australia board – so energy sector and finance sector experience there. And the deputy chair of the organisation is David Thodey. He was the CEO of Testra and amongst many things is chair of the CSIRO. And from his own team, the Prime Minister has also put on that commission Phil Gaetjens who is the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Secretary of the Home Affairs Department, and Mike Pezullo, who is currently running the national coordinating mechanism.

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