Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer is facing calls to resign after comparing Captain Cook to the coronavirus on the anniversary of his arrival into Botany Bay.
“Sudden arrival of an invader from another land, decimating populations, creating terror. Forces the population to make enormous sacrifices and completely change how they live in order to survive,” Dr Annaliese van Diemen tweeted on Wednesday – the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival.
“COVID-19 or Cook 1770?” she asked.
The tweet sparked outrage from Victorian Liberal frontbencher Tim Smith, who described it as ill-timed, “culture wars crap”.
“What’s with the culture wars crap from a state health bureaucrat at a time like this?’” he said.
“Captain Cook didn’t invade Australia. He charted the east coast of Australia.
“She is calling Captain Cook a virus. I mean, how ridiculous. Why would you say such a thing during a pandemic?”
Former state opposition leader Matthew Guy also jumped in, describing Dr van Diemen as “a complete fruitcake”.
“No wonder the COVID-19 rules are different in Victoria to anywhere else in Australia. We are being governed by hard left nutters,” he said.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the tweet was “divisive” and called for Dr van Diemen to step down.
“The Deputy CHO’s comments are divisive. She holds a senior position giving advice to the Premier and ministers on COVID-19 that are impacting all Victorians. She should be impartial not political,” she said.
But Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos stood by the health officer on Thursday, saying “angry MPs” should instead be focusing on the virus.
“The Deputy Chief Health Officer is doing an outstanding job protecting Victorians from this deadly pandemic. Criticism from angry MPs is irrelevant to the fight against this virus,” she said.
Others on Twitter said Dr van Diemen should be free to express her views on “historical issues”.
But Liberal backbencher James Newbury noted that the tweet was posted at 10:16am on Wednesday, “during work hours, when funded by the taxpayer”.
“The Public Administration Act requires that a public servant must be impartial, apolitical and behave in a way that sustains public trust,” he said.
Dr van Diemen was appointed as Deputy Chief Health Officer in November. She has worked at the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services since March 2016.