I can hardly bring myself to relate this week’s doings in the Queensland Parliament. They were simply shameful.
Extension of Emergency Powers
This was the week that the Queensland Parliament debated the Palaszczuk Government’s extension of the public health emergency powers.
The World Emerges
Any fair person would see that this “debate” is happening when governments across Australia and around the world are lifting restrictions and learning to live with COVID. Even NZ has changed its ways.
Australian Declaration Ends
This “debate” took place when the federal health minister had announced that, on the latest medical advice, the national emergency pandemic measures will not be renewed when they expire on April 17.
Vaccination 90+ Per Cent
This “debate” took place with Queensland’s vaccination rate sitting above 90 per cent.
The Long Story Told Short
The bill sailed through – challenged but unchanged - as the government wanted. Every ALP member voted in support. The LNP, KAP, PHON and the Independent members all voted against the bill. The Greens did not vote.
The Bully’s Way is Our Way
As I warned you last time, once this Cabinet agrees it wants to pass a bill, there is no chance to stop it and little chance to change it.
This government feels no need to appear fair or even handed. It has the majority from the voters and uses that to get its way. And it has a four year term. So it really can do what it wants in the belief voters will forget.
Still, even the Queensland ALP should have been aware of the public’s views. They weren’t – or if they were, they didn’t give a “tinker’s”.
Australia’s Most Gagged
Unbelievably, the government set a time limit to the debate. I note they did not do that for the debate on the Premier’s Flood Motion last sitting week. Any MP who wanted to speak to that, could do so.
But despite the overwhelming public concern about this bill, the Palaszczuk Government limited the speaking time so that many members – including me – were not given the chance to even speak to the bill.
In the case of the Katter Party, they couln’t speak and this meant they weren’t even able to put forward their amendments to the bill.
As the member for Maroochydore told the House, all of Australia experienced the challenges of managing COVID19, but Queensland was special in this (way); the government did not want to be accountable to the parliament.
This is Undemocratic
As the member said, the Queensland parliament is the most gagged parliament in Australia. It is the only parliament that has standing gags. It is the only parliament without an upper house – thanks to Queensland Labor. It is the parliament that sat the least number of days in all of Australia – 40 days last year.
It simply makes a mockery of all those Queenslanders who manned the rally in front of Parliament all week, or rang or wrote to MPs, or made submissions to the committee.
They just don’t care.
The LNP is in the Same Boat
The last extension to these extraordinary powers was granted in September 2021. At the time, the LNP already felt that a six month extension was too long.
Well, now we have lived through that whole extension period. Christmas, New Year, Omicron surge - all have come and gone. In the real world we are already actively living with COVID.
We have shown we are capable of home nursing and RATs and self isolating. We are capable of seeking medical assistance when we need to. We should not have to live with these draconian powers hanging over our heads.
The Time is Well and Truly Come
The Health Minister can’t justify these special powers simply by saying there is still COVID in the community.
There is always going to be COVID in the community for a long, long time. That is what living with COVID means. Like living with Flu and seasonal infections and other serious viruses.
If a more serious variant arises, the democratic and proper thing to do is for the Minister to return to Parliament and request the reinstatement of the emergency laws.
The possibility that we may be using these public health laws again in the future – either for COVID or some other ghastly disease – is also the reason we should amend the act now. We have just had a crash course in it.
The LNP Amendments
That’s why the LNP wanted to move two amendments. The first amendment would have reduced the current extension of powers from 6 months (October 31) to two months (May 31). This would give the Government two months to get their house in order and tell us how they plan to run the state while living with COVID.
We were giving the Health Minister two months to ensure she has all her ducks in a row. We were being kind, because really – after two years – she should have developed Queensland’s plan for living with COVID months ago.
Transparency and Trust
The LNP’s second amendment would have improved the bill in terms of transparency. The amendment asked the parliament to establish a bipartisan committee of MPs to oversee the use of the powers under this bill.
It also asked that each time a Health Order is made under this bill, the health advice supporting that decision is made publicly available as soon as possible.
No Support for Amendments
These two things are fundamental to transparency and trust. The LNP was not even allowed to put this second amendment, while KAP and PHON voted with the ALP and the Greens to defeat the first amendment.
What a wasted opportunity. The bill went to the floor unchanged and was voted through on the government numbers.
Doomed to Repeat Their Mistakes
I am bitterly disappointed at this outcome.
Not only will we have this unnecessary regime hanging over our heads for another six months, but we have botched the opportunity to improve the management of future health threats. That is both arrogant and dumb, dumb, dumb.
The whole thing has been shameful and has highlighted the Palaszczuk Government’s attitude to both Queenslanders and their Parliament – contempt.
Serious Laws with Serious Impacts
Frustratingly, the Premier and her ministers still seem deaf and blind to the serious impacts their use of these laws have had.
Queenslanders were prevented from returning to their own homes for months when the borders were closed with two hours’ notice.
Families were denied the right to comfort dying parents or to grieve with their siblings and friends.
Pregnant women were denied medical treatment and babies died.
And small businesses were sent to the wall by COVID trading restrictions and requirements.
That the Premier and Minister D’Ath and Steven Miles seem to think we should all be happy to just keep extending these powers is gob smacking.
Was there a Public Hearing?
Despite their lack of interest in other’s opinions, Labor did still have to take the report back to the Committee before it could take it to a vote in the House.
It is the committee that should consult the public to gauge public sentiment.
Importantly, the committee can hold public and private hearings with experts to understand the impacts and costs and to hear medical advice about whether the restrictions are still needed.
No Regional Hearings
Many Queenslanders felt they were denied a proper opportunity to have their say as the only public hearing was for about an hour. There were no regional hearings at all and public submissions were only accepted for a couple of weeks.
Thousands Still Wrote In
Even so, the committee received thousands of submissions expressing overwhelming opposition to the bill. The Queensland Human Rights Commissioner expressed grave concern at the impact on Queenslanders’ human rights.
Concerns about Human Rights, Accountability and Secrecy
The Queensland Law Society highlighted the secrecy and lack of accountability in the way powers in the bill have been used.
It was them – not the LNP - who first suggested that a parliamentary committee should be set up to oversee the use of these extraordinary powers so that Queenslanders could see that due process was being followed.
ALP Made Sure It Was Short on Time
This bill was always going to expire at the end off March, so the Government knew if it wanted to keep relying on these extraordinary powers it must extend them by this week.
So it controlled the timing of the whole process. What did they give us? A short committee assessment requiring the committee to table the report on Friday, March 25. Presumably it went straight to the Cabinet meeting the following Monday, then in to parliament on the Tuesday.
Where are we Now?
Right where Labor wants us. The extraordinary powers continue right through the federal election campaign.
And we still have no known strategy for going forward, living with COVID.
Still Paying for Quarantine, too
On Thursday in Question Time, Steven Miles was forced to admit that hotel quarantine is not over, despite his pronouncements at the February 5 opening of Wellcamp.
Since that date, the Palaszczuk Government has spent more than $26 million of taxpayers funds on a secret hotel-quarantine program. Most of that money has been spent on empty rooms.
Pennies From Heaven
At a cool half a million dollars a day, this money could actually be helping our health system or our roads.
Need I add, we still don’t know how much taxpayers money was spent on Wellcamp, either.
Labor’s Federal Campaign dominates the State House
So, what did we do with the rest of the sitting time? The Palaszczuk Government shamelessly used the Queensland Parliament to campaign for Labor’s federal election. If you want to be disgusted, use this link to scroll through the Hansard Record of Proceedings and see for yourself.
Labor Machine Grinds Relentlessly
Half of the ministerial statements given to the House seemed to be about how “Scomo” had “failed” Queenslanders.
In Question time the Government kept asking itself set-up questions about federal issues so that it could bash the PM or praise Anthony Albanese.
Really Bad Taste
It was just so jarring in a week when such an important bill was before the House and the flooding crisis was continuing in parts of the state.
Onto other issues.
Arrow Fined For Land Access Breaches
Late Thursday afternoon, the Resources Minister put out a media statement announcing that gas company, Arrow Energy, has been fined $1 million for breaches of Queensland’s land access laws from 2018 to early 2022.
The fine follows a departmental investigation into the behaviour and can be considered a win for landholders.
The Department of Resources will now conduct a six month long, targeted campaign of compliance checks on gas operations across the Surat Basin.
Liability for De-commissioned Wells
The Minister also addressed the issue of legal liability for decommissioned gas wells left on landholders’ properties, saying information published online this month clarifies the legal framework for dealing with gas infrastructure which remains onsite when a tenure is ended. You can read that here.
On the same day it was announced that the Gasfields Commission has commenced a research project into CSG-induced subsidence of agricultural land on the western downs. You can read more here.
Holiday Driving on Flood Affected Roads
With the Easter school holidays starting today, many Gregory families will be on the road. If you are heading into the south east corner, allow plenty of travel time as many of the roads down there are flood damaged.
Rolleston Roadworks until September
Drivers using the Carnarvon Highway out of the Central Highlands should be aware of roadworks 12 kilometres south of Rolleston. Works will continue from now until September. Lane closures, speed restrictions and traffic control directions will apply.
Any Junior IT Geniuses Out There?
Seniors Month grants are open for applications for subsidies of $1,000 to run events during Seniors Month in October.
Our Seniors Need Your Help
After helping many of our seniors to comply with the requirement to link their vaccination certificates to their phones and check in apps, I have a suggestion for our IT teachers and students across Gregory.
Think about hosting a “buddy” event for seniors in your community. The seniors can bring their phone or iPad along and ask our digital experts – aka the kids – any questions that have been puzzling them in how to use their device.
I am sure their other great ideas out there, too. The applications are open until 30 April 2022. Seniors month is in October.
ANZAC Day Trust Grants Open
The 2022 ANZAC Day Trust grants are now open, as is the ANZAC Day Trust COVID19 Grants.
The first lot of grants are for organisations which help ex-servicemen and women or their dependents with functions, welfare visits, educational bursaries and other services.
The COVID19 grants are to assist in the organisation of COVIDsafe events and to help veterans impacted by COVID19. You can find information about both types of grants here.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading. Parliament won’t sit again until May (I know!). However, I will write again in about two weeks just to keep you up to date.
In the meantime, if I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me. The Longreach office phone number is (07) 4521 5700. The Emerald office phone number is (07) 4913 1000.
You can email me at my website www.lachlanmillarmp.com
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Happy Easter – and stay safe,
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory