The senior health administrator appointed to advise the Victorian government on how to dismantle the state’s healthcare networks in 1999 has lost a high-paying job in a “Cookiegate” scandal in Canada.
Professor Stephen Duckett, a former head of the Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health, preferred to munch on a cookie rather than answer media questions as he left a meeting of senior healthcare advisers in Canada.
Dr Duckett, 60, had been headhunted in 2009 to take charge of the newly created Alberta Health Services.
But his tenure ended abruptly on Thursday when he walked out of the meeting in Edmonton eating a cookie and refusing to talk to waiting media about the health crisis in the Canadian province of Alberta.
At one stage, as he tried to outpace the media, he prodded the cookie towards the face of a female reporter and said the only thing he was interested in was eating his cookie.
He was quickly dubbed the “Cookie Monster” after a video of the incident went viral showing him nibbling on the biscuit and repeatedly telling the pursuing media “I’m eating my cookie”.
The former La Trobe University academic issued an apology the day after the incident on November 19, saying he deeply regretted his behaviour and said he respected journalists’ right to ask timely questions in the public interest.
“Most regrettably, I did not convey what I deeply feel, which is the greatest respect for the difficult challenges our healthcare providers face every day, and their innumerable achievements, and what those challenges and achievements mean for our patients and their families,” Dr Duckett said.
“We are all striving to do our best, but I know I got it wrong this time.”
Alberta Health Services issued a press release on Wednesday, Canadian time, saying Dr Duckett had been removed as its chairman.
Board chairman Ken Hughes told reporters that Dr Duckett was sacked because his ability to be effective in the role was compromised and the cookie video was “one of the elements” that led to the decision.
Dr Duckett chaired the board of directors of the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Australia from 2000 to 2005.
His job with the Victorian Bracks government in 1999 was to advise on the best arrangements for managing metropolitan hospitals and how best to achieve the savings.