22 December 2021

For Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, 2021 was ... a lot

| Lottie Twyford
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ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith became an even more familiar face to Canberrans, fronting the media almost daily during some parts of 2021. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

While lockdown was undeniably difficult for many, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith’s experience has to have been more difficult than most.

As the person in charge of the ACT’s public health decisions – alongside Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman – she was held to account by Canberrans.

Throughout the year, and the latter part in particular, Ms Stephen-Smith fronted the media almost daily to provide information and answer questions.

Often she faced frustration and backlash for decisions that left people in difficult circumstances – “stuck” at the border, unable to see their families or unable to go to work.

When mistakes happened, it was Ms Stephen-Smith who often had to be the person to apologise.

But she kept going, and Canberrans were grateful for it.

As for 2022, Ms Stephen-Smith is hoping for a bit of time to focus on non-pandemic work.

And to get out of the office a bit more, we imagine.

Region Media asked Ms Stephen-Smith for her personal reflections on 2021.

The moment that defined the year: Not surprisingly, the decision to enter lockdown on 12 August.

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The biggest lesson I learnt: The lockdown and need for quarantine highlighted the range of daily struggles faced by many in our community.

We need to keep all of these people and experiences in mind as we recover from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Apartment building with graffiti

When COVID-19 began to spread around the ACT, it was people in public housing such as Condamine Court in Turner, who often did it really tough. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

What 2021 taught me about leadership: If you’re honest and upfront with people, they will come with you on a difficult journey and understand when you don’t have all the answers.

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The highlight of the year: Visiting beautiful Port Douglas and the Daintree. I was very lucky to get there between border closures and that made it even more special.

The hardest thing that happened this year: There have been a few difficult moments and decisions in the pandemic response, but probably the hardest thing throughout has been hearing people’s personal stories about the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown.

While often we could help, sometimes there was nothing we could do to change a very difficult situation.

"Stay at home" road sign

During lockdown, Canberrans began looking forward to the CHO and Ms Stephen-Smith’s daily shout-outs. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Something I’m proud of: The whole public health team. Much of their work was invisible to the wider community, but we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

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What I wish I did differently: I wish I’d stuck with my exercise program during lockdown – I’m paying the price now!

My New Year’s Eve resolution: Stick with the exercise program! The horse will thank me for it.

What to expect from 2022: I’m hoping for a bit more time to ride my horse and to focus on non-pandemic related work.

Fingers crossed.

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It is easy to criticize as in hindsight things could always have been done better.

But overall, the ACT like most of the rest of Australia has handled the Pandemic quite well.

Not perfectly of course, but it could have been far worse.

Finagen_Freeman7:38 pm 30 Dec 21

It’s been a pleasure mentoring Rachel over the last few months. She’s always willing to seek advice and grow from her experiences. I’d empower again in a heart beat.

The Minister had a holiday in Port Douglas and visited the Daintree, but didn’t do as much horse riding as she would have liked.

I went to work in an essential industry and when I wasn’t at work, I stayed home.

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