Australia

Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton slam Victorian health official over Captain Cook tweet

Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen has been criticised for a tweet comparing COVID-19 to Captain Cook's arrival in Australia. Source: AAP

Victoria's second highest public health official has come under fire after a tweet comparing Captain Cook's arrival in Australia to the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told a Victorian public health official to stick to her day job after she likened COVID-19 to Captain Cook's arrival in Australia.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen has come under pressure for a tweet on the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's arrival in Australia.

"Sudden arrival of an invader from another land, decimating populations, creating terror. Forces the population to make enormous sacrifices & completely change how they live in order to survive. COVID-19 or Cook 1770?" she tweeted on Wednesday.

Mr Morrison said he found the comments "very disappointing".

"She clearly wouldn't get the job as chief historian," he told 2GB radio on Friday.

"I applaud the work she is doing as a medical officer in Victoria, that's her expertise. I would strongly suggest she keep to that, because those sort of comments don't inspire confidence.

"People should stick to their day jobs." 

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton accused Dr van Diemen of running "culture war debates", and declared: "She is unfit for that office and she should go."

"It's pretty obvious in the middle of a pandemic the second highest medical officer in the state of Victoria should be concentrating on the people of Victoria and the crisis associated with COVID-19," he told the Nine network on Friday.

Victorian Liberal MPs, including Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien, have also criticised the tweet.

"Premier, please ask your health officials to get back to work to give us a pathway out of your lockdown - instead of giving us woke political commentary on Twitter," Mr O'Brien tweeted.

Federal Labor MP Richard Marles said the tweet was "unhelpful", but argued Dr van Diemen should not be stood down.

But Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews spoke out in support of his health official at a press conference on Friday morning, saying the tweet had been posted on Dr van Diemen's day off and if politicians had "time to go to these matters then good luck to them".

He said his time was better spent on the health crisis itself.

"People have died, so many people are out of work, we're a long way from the end of this, that's what's dominating my thinking, not tweets. If people want to find fault with that, fine," Mr Andrews said.

"I don't believe that's the most important issue today. My priorities are very clear and that's not changing."

"I've got no comment to make on any member of the public health team other than thank you for the work you are doing because it is making a massive difference," he said.

"They have all been working very, very hard, working long hours for all of us."

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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