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Separation of powers: Has saving us from Covid made Young's new job tougher?


Jeannette Young’s appointment as Queensland’s next Governor seemed logical at the time it was announced – but much has changed since then, writes Madonna King

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Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young.

Take these four comments, all delivered yesterday.

A marketing executive: “I wish she’d use ‘we’ not ‘I’. It sounds as though she’s not a team player.’

A hair dresser: “I’d love to do something with her hair. Give me two hours, and I’d have her looking a picture.’’

A media commentator: “She’s the best dressed doctor in town. Do you know where she gets her clothes?’’

A GP: “She might have the ear of the public, but doctors don’t like her. She’s out of her depth. The new CHO will have the support of the profession.’’

Sexist? Unfair? Probably both – but there’s no doubt being CHO, during a pandemic, is a tough gig.

Young’s replacement, who is still to be announced officially, will also face comparison with a professional who has made the role her own since first taking on the gig on Ekka Show day in 2005.

Young is instantly recognisable because of her daily press conferences. But her experience in the role has been narrated through natural disasters and influenza seasons, the swine flu and dengue fever and the rise of anti-vaxxers, who are now claiming her as one of their own.

She’s the first to admit she’s made mistakes – and her early comments on the vaccine certainly have hindered the State’s vaccination rates – but her dedication, perseverance and people skills are incalculable.

Ask those who work with her, and they can’t nominate a fault. She listens. She’s likeable, even mischievous. She’s calm. She’s rational. She takes advice.

And they are all crucial attributes for the woman who will follow Paul de Jersey to become Queensland’s 27th governor in a few weeks’ time. She will be the first governor to be reducing her profile by taking on the role of State Governor.

The governor might be the representative of Queensland’s head of State, Her Majesty the Queen. But in 2021, the position has the support of republicans and monarchists alike.

That’s because modern governors had pivoted the role into serving the community, especially outside the State’s busy south-east. For example, like those before her, Jeannette Young will soon become patron for dozens and dozens of organisations.

Communities battered by floods and cyclones and bushfires travel for hours to see a governor visit their local area, and the empathy delivered by a visit from Government House can work wonders.

That’s because it’s seen as genuine. The Governor does not fill a political role. They are not looking for votes.

They are not associated with the politics of the day – indeed five of the past six State governments have ended up at the constitutional oversight of a different party to that which appointed them. It surely is a lonely role sometimes, but one that adds so much to the fabric of our state.

When governors go into the community, they don’t carry a cheque book. But their power to bring a focus to the parts of our State needing help is immeasurable.

Paul de Jersey, Penelope Wensley, Quentin Bryce, Peter Arnison and Leneen Forde have used their rural visits to advocate for change in a variety of areas – including the plight of our First Nations people, securing better roads in the west, and the provision of better protection and stronger rights for both children and women.

Each has done it differently, but all have done it with a fierce independence that feeds the credibility and the authority of the position.

And that’s where Dr Jeannette Young’s biggest challenge will surface.

Today, she’s seen almost as part of the serving government. She holds her daily press conference with the premier or her deputy or a senior minister. She seems in sync with them, has not had any public difference of opinion, and has even delivered her daily message from electorates belonging to those she serves.

It’s just a perception, but it’s one she needs to guard against. In addition to the governor’s community and ceremonial role, the post also carries strong constitutional requirements.

Penelope Wensley, as governor, was known to put some ministers through jumping hoops – with the determination to ensure legislation was the best it could be.

Other governors in other ways have questioned the government of the day in the non-partisan, non-political way their position dictates.

Jeannette Young needs to do the same. She needs to show the government – irrespective of its colour – and the people of Queensland that she belongs or supports no-one more than any other. The success of the role dictates it.

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