Opinion Madonna King: We need to bring our policy big guns to national cabinet’s COVID-19 fight

Madonna King: We need to bring our policy big guns to national cabinet’s COVID-19 fight

Madonna King COVID Cabinet
A civic COVID team would be able to better create a COVID strategy, and take the nation with it, writes Madonna King. Photo: TND
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When selectors prepare to choose the Ashes Test team, they focus on the best players.

They look at form, injury, fitness and strategy. What mix of players might send England home with their tails between their legs?

Olympic selection is no different. Without fear or favour, the successful team is chosen at swimming trials, and that determines who heads for history, and who heads back home, with their dreams dashed for another four years.

It’s ruthless. But the aim is to ensure victory.

So why should it be any different when it comes to fighting a pandemic that is now upending almost every area of our lives?

A virus that is shutting down elective surgery in our hospitals, preventing access to our aged-care homes, throwing return-to-school plans out the window, and stopping workplaces from operating?

Isn’t this the test we really do need to win? So why don’t we choose our best team?

On any measure, with all the goodwill in the world, the Morrison cabinet is not that team.

Neither is any whole state team, now in power. It’s hard to see the Opposition, with its limited vision, making the inroads needed either.

So who would you choose for the team to take on COVID-19?

First and foremost, this is a health challenge. And Greg Hunt has been a worthy advocate for the haphazard policies announced.

But shouldn’t the health lead be taken by an expert in infectious diseases management, not policy?

Shouldn’t we find the nation’s top specialist in that area, to sit at the head of that national cabinet table?

My vote goes to the current Queensland CHO, Dr John Gerrard, an infectious diseases and immunology expert who treated the state’s first COVID-19 case.

The effect on business will be seen in COVID’s long tail – and a top business expert needs a seat at the decision-making table.

What about the first female CEO of a big four bank Gail Kelly, who has been named the eighth most powerful woman in the world previously?

Or Shemara Wikramanayake, who was appointed CEO of Macquarie Group, in 2018.

Or Therese Rein, who might be the wife of former prime minister Kevin Rudd but is also a globally successful business entrepreneur.

Logistics are crucial, as supermarket shelves empty and freight transport held up through illness.

Would Anthony Pratt or Lindsay Fox make the biggest difference there? Or perhaps the Wagner family, who set up Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, the first public airport to be constructed in Australia in half a century.

Lindsay Fox
Could Lindsay Fox help keep the nation’s supply lines open throughout the pandemic?

The use of data could be a significant cure for this pandemic, if we knew what to collect and how to use it. So why don’t we?

Forget tallies that stop and start at state borders.

What have we learnt from those who have contracted the different strains of COVID?

How can we use the global experience to ready Australians for COVID combat?

And what data could be used to help those falling ill each day?

Our universities are experts here. Who would they nominate as taking that seat around the cabinet table?

Education has been disrupted beyond what was needed over the past two years, and students in Melbourne have copped the brunt of that.

So why don’t we have the principal of one of Melbourne’s big successful schools as part of the decision-making team?

Dr Toni Meath from Melbourne Girls Grammar School. Or Linda Douglas from Ruyton Girls’ School. Marise McConaghy from Strathcona.

The difficulty here, given the calibre of candidates, would be making a choice. But we can ill afford not including a senior educator in a national COVID cabinet, and that person should come from Melbourne where students have suffered the biggest disruptions.

Tracy Adams could be a boon for kids’ mental health as part of a COVID cabinet.

The mental health of our children and teens will be a supercharged challenge, post COVID.

We are already seeing skyrocketing rates in self-harm and anxiety and eating disorders.

And yet, it can take more than a year to find a psychologist with a free appointment.

Patrick McGorry has my vote here, but there are dozens of experts whose advice needs to be called on too, like Tracy Adams from Kids Helpline.

Professor Ian Frazer, former Australian of the Year who was jointly responsible for the cervical cancer vaccine, might take the science seat.

Or perhaps it’s the lead on a team now working away in our universities on the science that will stop the next strain of COVID.

The point is that we need an expert in science, who is able to provide the funds needed to find the COVID antidote.

Dangerous COVID rates in Indigenous communities mean we need to learn how to access and prevent the virus from making any further inroads there.

Would Johnathan Thurston be best there, given so many are in the Sunshine State? Or Adam Goodes? Cathy Freeman? Noel Pearson?

The power of celebrity and social media needs to be embraced and used.

Who would carry the most influence? Chris Hemsworth? Hugh Jackman? Or any of those young savvy Instagram users who boast millions of followers.

The list could go on. Who else would you include?

But putting politics aside – because that’s what would need to happen to have a genuinely expert COVID cabinet – wouldn’t that team be victors over the one we have now?

Wouldn’t a civic COVID team, with the Prime Minister as a single member, be able to better create a COVID strategy, and take the nation with it?

If only our current COVID cabinet could see the value in the expertise outside that room …