This week Australia has watched anxiously as the outbreak of the Delta strain in NSW continues to expand. With daily case numbers touching Melbourne’s peak of 700 a day, and still too many infectious in the community, there are now serious concerns about how the NSW health system will cope.
Meanwhile in Melbourne, their lockdown keeps getting extended week by cruel week, for the same reason – too many infectious in the community before they are picked up with testing.
Children At Risk
Victorians are living under tough restrictions including a curfew and the closure of children’s playgrounds. This is a reflection of the number of cases occurring in children, which is another new feature of the Delta strain. The other key feature is how easily it spreads from person to person.
Queensland Crushes It
The ACT and the Northern Territory are also under siege from Delta. In Queensland, we did very well to squash our first Delta outbreak in the recent SEQ and Cairns lockdowns.
We owe enormous thanks to the nearly 13,000 Queenslanders who voluntarily put themselves into 14 days total quarantine at home during that key time.
A Triumph of Common Sense
It was a triumph of common sense because we now know that Queensland Health failed to issue the quarantine orders to most of these people.
They were simply doing what they had been asked to do in the morning media conferences. When one member of the household got “pinged” as a close contact, no member of the household would go out for any reason for 14 days. And it worked.
Getting the Virus to Stay Home
It was interesting to see the success of this approach in isolating the spread of Delta. Many of these people would have been self-identified through tracking exposure venues on the website. Some didn’t test positive until day 10. But because they stayed at home, they weren’t infectious in the community. They weren’t spreading it from person to person.
Family Love Saves the Day
In a way, we got very lucky that this was a school-centred outbreak. I suspect that gave everyone involved high stakes. Humans will selflessly make sacrifices for their children or parents that they wouldn’t necessarily do for themselves. If it had been a younger, more footloose bunch of Queenslanders, we may be in real trouble now.
We’re From Queensland – How Can We Help?
So we should be counting our blessings and asking how we can support NSW in particular. We do have to keep the border closed, but perhaps we could assist with contact tracing expertise.
Delta has Stepped Up the Game
Delta has been a game changer around the world. Countries where it seemed under control, are now dealing with huge new waves. This includes China, Europe, the US, Japan and Vietnam.
Global Spread Again
Not only is Delta able to strike children, it is more infectious than earlier strains. Experts around the world are now saying it will be impossible to prevent it spreading and the only decision is whether we want to meet it vaccinated or not.
Delta’s Naïve Victims
Doctors use the word “naïve” to describe the immune systems of people who have never been exposed to coronavirus. They say Delta makes it inevitable that we are all going to meet Delta one day, and the naïve immune systems are the people at risk.
NSW is Proving It
It is the unvaccinated who are most at risk of ending up in ICUs and most at risk of death. This is already clear in NSW where unvaccinated people or only partly vaccinated people have comprised the fatalities every day.
So, it has been great to see the uptake of vaccines increasing as supply also increases. In the meantime, we are back to the early days of March last year and using every tool we have.
Vax Not the Only Useful Tool
Our tool box is not empty. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of thorough handwashing, masks, social distancing.
Use the Check In Qld app when you are out and about. Use hand sanitiser when it is offered at businesses and when you come home wash your hands thoroughly – remember the old two minute routine? When you meet someone on the street, keep your social distance when chatting: a big step back and a step to the side.
Best Of All – Don’t be Naïve when you meet Delta
If you haven’t booked for a jab, register your interest. If you need to speak to your GP about which vaccine to use, remember you are entitled to a completely free consultation to do so. Pfizer vaccines are now available in Gregory as well as Astra Zeneca.
Border Closures Are Being Enforced
Meanwhile, please know the border closures are being strictly enforced. This will mean hotel quarantine on your return if you travel interstate to a hotspot. If you don’t want to do the quarantine, please don’t travel interstate. Even Tasmania and South Australia, who have open borders for Queenslanders, could change on a dime and become declared hotspots. Delta spreads that quickly.
Can We Keep Delta Out?
Probably only for a time. The CHO believes it is worth trying to buy more time for Queenslanders to be vaccinated. The tougher border closures are about trying to stop the spread of a new wave from any of the affected locations in Victoria, NSW, ACT and NT. In the meantime, the state government has finally started to open mass vaccination hubs in SEQ.
Snap Lockdowns Likely
Snap lockdowns are very likely if we get any cases at all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t soften the blows when and where they fall.
Business Impacts Add Up
The impact of snap lockdowns on business has been tough and it has been cumulative. It is not just the number of days in lockdown, it is the number of times we are being asked to repeat the cycle. For small business, it is simply diabolical. And in Queensland, the support has been virtually non-existent.
Not Just in Queensland
Given Queensland’s large tourism economy, lockdowns in other eastern seaboard states impact our business as much or more than Queensland lockdowns. Our winter tourists are having to bet whether they risk being locked in or out.
We Need to Help Small and Family Business to Survive
On more than 100 occasions – in Parliament and in media conferences - the LNP has called for a lockdown support package that doesn’t just kick the can down the road with a deferral of state charges and fees.
42 Per Cent of Business
Forty-two percent of Queenslanders are employed by small and family businesses. Those businesses must still pay wages and superannuation and rent and bank charges and inventory and electricity – all those fixed costs – all through lockdowns. Many small business families have been dipping into savings to do it and face losing their life’s work.
Scaring the Customers
Sometimes, you don’t even have to be in lockdown for it to get you. Recently, when a QantasLink crew member flew on a flight from Brisbane to Longreach and back, the CHO announced that flight had potentially been infectious.
Dust in the Rear-View Mirror
Suddenly our prosperous tourism season turned to dust. People loaded up their caravans and cars and bolted. Then it turned out the cabin crew hadn’t been infectious on that date. But it was too late for Longreach.
New Packages Announced
Up until now, Treasurer Dick has been deaf to calls for help. Then at the beginning of the month, he announced a COVID-19 Business Support package.
I haven’t mentioned this earlier, because in the same breath the Treasurer said the applications for the grant wouldn’t open for two weeks and that the program was capped– and so likely to be quickly oversubscribed like the previous program last year. To top it off, the grants have strict eligibility criteria.
In fact the criteria are so strict that 62 per cent of Queensland businesses will be ineligible according to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland. This is because they are non-employing sole traders.
Call 1300 654 687 for information
On August 13, the federal government came to the rescue with funding to lift the cap to $600 million, so that more businesses could gain support. Applications opened this week at www.business.qld.gov.au/supportgrants .
QRIDA Portal Profile Needed
The applications must be lodged through the QRIDA portal, so you will need to create a QRIDA portal profile before you can apply.
You can also call 1300 654 687 for information. If you are in need of support, I urge you to make enquiries first, because I fear there will be little to benefit Gregory businesses.
Ramshackle Queensland Estimates
Last time I wrote, I promised you an update on the budget estimates process that has been slowly unfolding. Broken and disjointed is probably the short description.
A Lot of Secrecy
Despite the Clerk of the Parliament issuing clear instructions that Ministers must answer any questions pertaining to the budget, once again it was a cynical and highly politicised process.
Little of value emerged as ALP Committee chairs used up time with self-indulgent prologues and overt protection of Ministers in difficulty. Here are a few topical “low-lights” to give you a feel for the trend.
Youth Crime Wave Continues
Given not one but two violent home invasions in Brisbane in recent days, both involving knives and in one case a machete and axe as well, the LNP has been proved correct in our continuing fight to have breach of bail reinstated as a juvenile offence.
Wallabies Legend Fights for Life
In the high profile case of Wallabies legend Toutai Kefu, he was left fighting for his life and his wife and two of his children were left injured. The offenders were aged from 13 to 15 years. They were travelling in a stolen car and trying to steal another. At least one was already on bail for previous offences.
So What is Labor Doing?
So what is the Government doing and how is that working out?
Townsville has suffered particularly badly so I was interested in the estimates hearings of the Legal Affairs and Safety Committee regarding the findings of two reports on initiatives to address youth crime in Townsville.
Two Townsville “Game-Changers
The first initiative is called the Rapid Action Police (RAP) group and the other is the Townsville Stronger Communities Action Group (TSCAG). This latter group was put in place in 2016 and is supposed to be taking a “whole-of-government” approach to stopping youth criminal behaviour.
According to estimates evidence from the Police Minister and the Police Commissioner, both initiatives have been reviewed. They even said reforms have been put into place as a result.
But what the reviews found and what the reforms entail remain shrouded in mystery. Given that TSCAG was setup without any key performance criteria to measure whether or not it was succeeding, a review of its actions and success was well overdue. What we need to know now is what it tried and what worked or failed.
Overdue but Secret
The Police Minister refused to give any detail of the findings of the reviews and refused to give any commitment as to whether he will release the reports.
Following the recent kerfuffle over gender equity targets in police recruiting and the ongoing deployment of police to pandemic duties, the Estimates Hearing also raised the topic of police numbers.
Figures released at the Hearing showed that while 433 new recruits had been sworn into the Queensland Police Service in 2020-21, 326 officers had left police service in the same period, leaving a net gain of only 117 officers.
Missing the Promised Recruits
In September 2020, just prior to the election, the Palaszczuk Government promised an increase of 1450 sworn police officers over five years, or 290 per year. It seems we are badly lagging, just when we need them most.
Thin Blue Line Gets Thinner
No wonder the Premier has called on the Prime Minister for soldiers to assist with the border closure. We’ve lost thousands of SES and Rural Fire volunteers and the police are spread thinner and thinner.
The Unnecessary Ombudsman
In the Transport and Resources Committee Estimates Hearing, it was revealed that the Palaszczuk Government spent $430,000 to rent and set up office space for a Personalised Transport Ombudsman’s Office.
What’s that, you ask? No, it’s not for complaints about personal mobility scooters or public eScooters or even bicycles. It is for complaints about taxis and Ubers.
The Department of Transport had even spent $33,000 on the recruitment process and had selected a preferred candidate for the position.
Half a Mill, Ka-ching!
Then in June, out of the blue, Transport Minister Bailey said there were not enough complaints to warrant setting up a new office to deal with them.
Given that the new ombudsman was announced in 2019, you’d think they could have found this out before wasting nearly half a million dollars on office space. Then again, at least we won’t be stuck with paying out contracts for the unnecessary staff to go with the unnecessary ombudsman.
The Department now has some very nice furnishings and IT equipment to find a use for.
Regional Air Fares Promise
The Hearing also asked about the Regional Airfares price-tracking tool promised by Minister Bailey on July 29 last year.
This was his solution to the high airfares felt right across regional Queensland, not least here in Gregory. It impacts on practically every aspect of our lives.
Regional Air Fares Fail
The Hearing heard this idea also flopped. The Department told the Hearing:
“The issue really was one where we could not actually get it to do anything that would have been useful to people on the ground… The price-tracking tool we intended to do would have been of very little use to anyone, if that helps”.
The Shadow Transport Minister asked how much had been spent on it before it was dropped, but was told it was too hard to separate out the figure because it had been absorbed by the Department.
Political Time Waste?
Hmm. Does that mean the public servants’ time could not have been used better or does it mean they didn’t waste any time on it because they could see it was a political gimmick from the Minister’s office? Take your pick.
What is a Rural and Remote Council?
If you asked Deputy Premier Steven Miles, who is also our Minister for State Development and Minister for Local Government, what is a rural and remote council, he’d reply the majority of Queensland’s councils are rural and remote.
He’s signed up 45 of them! There are only 77 local government in the whole state. The Deputy Premier rates way more than half of them as rural and remote. Do you think he gets out of SEQ and the Byron Shire very often?
Facing the Challenges of Remoteness
Steven Miles told the Estimates Hearing that 45 councils would be part of the government’s Rural and Remote Council’s Compact to collaborate on addressing the particular challenges facing rural and remote communities … like financial sustainability, roads and housing.
As the member representing Queensland’s RAPAD shires, this leaves me furious. Lockyer Valley does not share the degree of challenge faced in Diamantina, or Winton, Longreach, Barcaldine or Blackall-Tambo shires.
Esk not the same as Bedourie
Just getting resources and tradies to build a house in many of our areas is a problem. Our small markets and remote distances mean many home-building grant programs don’t apply either.
The Lockyer Valley’s highways and roads are immaculate compared to Gregory, as the latest road-toll figures show.
As for financial sustainability, figures again tell the story. Just compare rate-payer numbers with the length of shire roads. That will help the DP get a grip without ever leaving his comfort zone.
Onto a different topic:
Future Droughts Grant Program
As part of a national move towards building drought resilience, the Australian Government is inviting Expressions of Interest applications for grants under the Future Drought Fund – Drought Resilience Innovation grants.
These grants are intended to support innovative programs that help farmers and agricultural communities to adapt to drought or prepare for drought.
The current round is open until September 8. If you have a good idea you’d like to see made a reality, you can find out more here.
As part of this program, the Queensland Government will be administering three new measures to help farmers including farm management grants, drought preparedness grants and Drought Ready and Recovery Finance Loans. However these are still not up on the QRIDA website yet.
Palaszcuk’s Polling Path
Turns out the Premier has not been relying only on the medical advice in making her decisions to manage the pandemic. The Australian newspaper discovered there has been monthly focus group polling to shape the government’s approach.
What is a Focus Group?
It is a small group of people brought together for qualitative market research. Surveys give you quantitative research; how many people think “X”– 65 per cent of people think “X”.
Focus Groups aim to tell you how people feel about “X” and how strongly they feel that.
It’s About the Vibe
The members of the group are often deliberately selected to represent certain sections of the population: a senior, a tradie, a teacher, a young mum and so on. The facilitator might say something like, “The Premier has said she will put us into lockdown if there is even one case of Delta. How do you feel about that?”
The facilitator then observes the conversation amongst the group members.
Attention is paid not just to the opinions voiced, but how they are said and how much emotion they generate in the speaker and in other members of the group.
How to Tweak Your Image
From Focus Groups you might learn things a survey just wouldn’t uncover, like “Nobody likes to hear NSW-bashing because they all have family and friends there. They really think Aussies should not call each other losers. They really think Aussies should help each other.”
This shows you what emotion you should show on the topic of NSW if it comes up in media conferences.
Gets Hard to tell Image from Reality
Combine that with a team of 30 personal spin doctors and image tweakers and you’ll be more popular than a Hemsworth or Kylie Minogue.
The problem is people can’t trust which bit is real. Are you making decisions in their best interest, or are you making decisions to maintain your personal and political popularity?
And It Costs
The Australian reports the initial contract cost Queensland taxpayers $528,000, “likely one of the most expensive market research projects commissioned in years.”
And yes it began in May 2020, so it helped Labor win the election.
The contract has now been renewed and extended.
So Much for Honest Government
As InQueensland wrote, “At the very least the taxpayers who paid for the research have a right to see it. But no, don’t you worry about that – it won’t ever be released because, well, it’s private. What a joke.”
I have to agree – and it is a pattern of behaviour.
That’s My Lot
That’s my lot this week. Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone who is helping the vaccination effort.
The week after next we are back to Brisbane for Parliament in what is starting to feel like a rare sitting.
Kindest Regards – and stay safe!
Lachlan Millar, MP
Member for Gregory
Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade| Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Queensland| Deputy Chair – Parliamentary Committee for Transport and Resources