If there was ever a ministerial portfolio that required stability, it's health.
Yet as of Wednesday Tasmania was delivered its third Health Minister since 2014, with Jeremy Rockliff taking on what's long been heralded as cabinet's "poisoned chalice". It's a move many were quick to applaud. After all, promises to fix the state's ailing health system were front and centre throughout the Liberal's whirlwind election campaign. Without a significant shake-up, how else will would the party prove it's really committed to change?
Appointing the Deputy Premier to health is nothing short of a power move from the government to show it's really getting down to business. But what does it say for the efforts of Sarah Courtney, who held the role for less than two years? Or, the the so-called long-term and systematic health reforms the government has claimed credit for over the past seven years? Is it now just a matter of Ms Courtney passing the baton on, or will we see Mr Rockliff run his own race?
To really consider this we probably need some context. The last significant Cabinet reset came at the end of June 2019, with Michael Ferguson sensationally dumped as Health Minister - a role he had held for five years. It signalled some what of a fresh start for the government, with Mr Ferguson having only recently dodged his fourth vote of no confidence in Parliament. There was also mounting external pressures for him to step down from the role.
The so-called reset happened on June 30, on the back of frontbencher Jacquie Petrusma's decision to resign from Cabinet for health reasons. Sarah Courtney was named Health Minister, and the health portfolio was split (somewhat), with the responsibilities of mental health and wellbeing (the government's term for preventative health) now sitting with Mr Rockliff.
At the time he said it represented a "fresh approach" to mental health aimed at improving integration across the broader system. Similarly, Ms Courtney said she would be considering the "short, medium and long-term solutions". But just eight months later the state would record its first case of COVID-19.
And now, just over a year on, the minister responsible for our frontline services is out of the top job. Meanwhile, elective surgery waitlists remains at an all time high, ambulance ramping continues, as do the horror stories coming from our hospital emergency departments. The pandemic has compounded these issues - but it didn't cause them.
That said, in announcing the new-look Cabinet this week Premier Peter Gutwein said Ms Courtney had done an "outstanding" job with health. Even if the credit for steering Tasmania safely through COVID-19, as evident by the recent election results, seems to sit firmly with the Premier alone.
Even though, as he rightly pointed out, Ms Courtney stood alongside him at about 70 of the daily COVID updates provided by the government last year. She also beared the brunt of the fallout from allegations made against former Launceston General Hospital paediatric nurse James Geoffrey Griffin - the catalyst for Tasmania's Commission of Inquiry.
The fallout from this, along with fixing the state's health crisis now sits firmly with Mr Rockliff, who is undoubtedly well respected by both his peers and stakeholders alike. We have seen health, mental health and wellbeing realigned to the one minister, who says he's committed to seeing through a full term. This should guarantee us a single health minister for the next four years, and hopefully, real reform in a sector where lives are literally hanging in the balance.
But if we have learnt anything it's that there are no quick fixes for health, and as such, only long-term solutions will stick - not just a fresh face.
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