At the centre of Australia’s health response to COVID-19: Brendan Murphy and Caroline Edwards

Cheryl-anne Moy, Department of Home Affairs

Professor Brendan Murphy, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer

Caroline Edwards, acting Secretary of the Department of Health

Caroline Edwards, acting Secretary of the Department of Health

Professor Brendan Murphy, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, and Caroline Edwards, acting Secretary of the Department of Health, were recently interviewed for the WORK WITH PURPOSE podcast.

Both have played central roles in the COVID-19 health response in Australia.

In speaking on the experience Brendan Murphy said that:

‘One of most rewarding things about this whole episode is that every government, state and federal, has said: “Tell us the health advice and we’ll take it”. And that has been a very strong feature of the Australian response and even the National Cabinet, the collectiveness of everyone coming together. So I felt at all times that my ministers and the Prime Minister were listening, and supporting, and they were prepared to co-own decisions’.

He also observed that:

‘…the challenge with responding to something like this virus is that there is no rule book. We had a plan, we had a very good pandemic influenza plan but a pandemic influenza plan is based on the premise that a vaccine will come in three or four months. There is no such plan for this virus so we have at all times been taking the best possible guess as we went forward.’

And he was keen to emphasise how much preparation had been done:

‘We had a national medical stockpile, we had the plans, we had the Public Health Laboratory Network, we had the Infection Control Advisory Group and if we hadn’t had all those sort of precedent conditions, we would have been in a lot of trouble.’

Caroline Edwards recalled the first thing that happened when the department came to implement the government’s health measures — the Canberra Day long weekend.

‘Instead of having a weekend we spent all three days, all of the executive and a lot of the rest of the department, working out the $2.4 billion package that was announced shortly after that. And that was actually fundamental because we started working differently across teams and people were volunteering — “I’ll work up that measure”, “I’ll work up the other — and just repurposing. So that set us up.’

There were three really important things Health did next: they repurposed every single team in the department but didn’t change the structure; they made sure they did social distancing properly across the 4,000 staff: and they suspended a lot of the normal rules and processes, instead adopting a principles-based decision making process.

WORK WITH PURPOSE is produced in partnership between contentgroup and IPAA ACT, with the support of the Australian Public Service Commission.

The podcast can be accessed from the link below and is also available on Spotify, SoundCloud and iTunes.

Work with Purpose

Episode #11: The Dynamic Duo - Dr Brendan Murphy and Caroline Edwards