COVID19 NEWS AND SOME PARLIAMENT UPDATES, TOO

Queensland’s Roadmap to Recovery seems to be morphing into a constant string of surprise announcements.

Here is your latest update.

Home Reno Grants for Seniors and Disabled
On Tuesday, the Premier announced $10 million for a Seniors Accessibility and Renovation Assistance grant program.

To apply, you must ring Home Assist and Secure. Do this ASAP as the grants are a maximum of $5,000 – which means only 2,000 people in the whole of Queensland will receive one. Home Assist and Secure already have 10,000 clients in their Rockhampton office alone.

I have been told that the grants will also be open to disabled people. Best to ring and see if you are eligible. Across Gregory the phone numbers are:

Central Highlands – (07) 49 368 5222.  This is the Rockhampton office.
Barcaldine – (07) 46 572 683
Blackall/Tambo 07 46 576 194
Longreach – (07) 46 580 671
Winton – (07) 46 580 671

Kids Can Visit Aged Care Homes Again

Queenslanders residing in residential aged care homes can now receive two visitors at a time, as often as they like and for as long as they like. Best of all, children are allowed to visit aged care homes again!

Outside service providers, like legal advisors, therapists and hairdressers are also able to visit their clients in residential aged care.

However, all visitors – including children – must have up-to-date flu vaccinations.

I have been concerned about our aged care residents feeling like prisoners, so I welcome the announcement that they are now allowed to leave the aged care home to attend small family gatherings, attend a funeral, receive health care or take exercise. You can read the formal direction here.

Small Business COVID19 Adaptation Grants Extended
You may recall the $100 million announced for these grants last month. By the time many regional small businesses got to apply, they were told the grants were closed. The money was all gone.

Hit the repeat button. This week another $100 million has been allotted to these grants. At $10,000 per grant that will be another 10,000 grants across Queensland, but some have been reserved for regional centres.

I can’t tell you about closure dates as we have been struggling to find any official information, but given the small amount I urge you to apply ASAP. It will be oversubscribed. This web page provides guidelines, tips on making your application and frequently Asked Questions.

First Homeowners Grants with a Regional Boost

An extra $106 million has been allocated to the first homeowner’s grant scheme($15,000) and the Regional Homebuilding Boost Grant ($5,000). Potentially this is worth $20,000 for first homeowners in Gregory, but again the maths suggest there won’t be many grants before the money runs out – so get in fast.

For information on eligibility and how to apply for the First Homeowners Grant  click here.

For information on applying for the Regional Homebuilding Boost Grant click here.

Agribusiness Diversification Grants

The Premier this week announced money for grants for agribusiness to diversify, including into tourism. Although the announcement has been made, no details have yet been released. The DAF website just says they are “continuing to work with industry to progress these initiatives.” I’ll keep you updated when details come to hand.

The same announcement included $5 million to support agribusiness in e-commerce and virtual trade in key markets, including assistance to co-ordinate demand for air freight services and $5.5 million to improve traceability, biosecurity and food safety.

Again, there are no details, and the amounts seem miniscule.

Funeral Restrictions Eased, but not Weddings

On Monday it was announced that up to 100 people can now attend funerals. Funeral organisers will be required to keep a record of attendees for contact tracing purposes. The 100 persons allowance applies only to funerals, not to wakes.

A Media Statement by the Deputy Premier and Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles on Monday said weddings remain capped at 20 guests. However, he then says, “Note up to 100 people can attend a wedding if the wedding venue opts into the relevant industry safe plan.”

At the time of writing – five days later – there is no updated direction on the Queensland Chief Health Officer’s web site to verify this announcement.

Virtual Protest Rally for Boarders
On Thursday, the Isolated Children’s Parents Association held a virtual protest rally on zoom, begging for their children to be allowed to return to some sort of normality for the start of Term 3.

It must be galling for our rural and remote families to be constantly told, Queensland schools are back to normal when 75 per cent of our boarding students are still forcibly excluded from their schools.

Boarding is a Key Education Pathway
Queensland is a state with a large land mass, so it makes sense that many Queenslanders rely on the boarding pathway to educate their children.

Under COVID19 restrictions, the AHPPC issued a blanket rule that boarding schools could only accommodate 25 per cent of their normal residency.

Living in Lockdown
If you think that 25 per cent were the lucky ones, think again. Social distancing has been strictly enforced. They can’t eat with their friends, socialise, study or play sport with their fellow boarders. They can’t leave the campus.

There is no one to even to give them a pat on the back.  They have been living in 24/7 lockdown, except for school hours.

In the classroom, they are side-by-side with day students who are free to mingle in the community, go to markets, go to marches, catch public transport and kiss and hug their parents and siblings.

And What About the 75%?
Meanwhile, the other 75 per cent of students have been treated as “catch as catch can”. Some families are split, with Mum renting a house in the city so the older kids can attend as day students. This has meant removing younger siblings from their primary school at home.

Some of the 75 per cent have been billeted out, in some cases to day families they didn’t know. Many of the 75 per cent are still struggling along with remote learning, feeling very isolated as they are home alone while Mum and Dad are working and younger siblings are at school.

Unfair and Unworkable
As I keep saying, there is no end date for corona virus. We will be living with it for quite some time. The current situation is not a workable permanent or even semi-permanent solution.

My representation to the Minister for Education was simply brushed off as having nothing to do with her, because it is a rule set by the AHPPC.

There’s an acronym for you: the AHPPC. It stands for the Australian Health Principal Protection Committee. Its members are the Chief Health Officers of all the states and territories, chaired by the Australian Chief Health Officer.

Queensland Said Nothing
Queensland is fully represented on that panel. As a state where boarding is a key education pathway, Queensland should have immediately challenged the 25% residency proposal. Queensland should have asked what would happen to the remaining 75 per cent forcibly excluded from their schools by the rule.

Compared to the 1.5 metre social distancing rule or the four-square-metre rule for indoor gatherings, the 25 per cent residency rule seems unscientific and arbitrary.

Rule Lifted But No Guarantees

I wrote to the Education Minister and the Premier about this, as did the ICPA. But neither of us received any response, not even a word of encouragement. Maybe there was activity behind the scenes that we weren’t told about because late on Wednesday, the AHPPC lifted the 25 percent residency restriction.

After the virtual rally on Thursday morning, I spoke in the House on Thursday afternoon. I pointed out that while this is progress, it doesn’t actually resolve anything for our boarding families.

New COVID19 Management Plans
Boarding schools will now have to submit new COVID19 management plans to Queensland Health. How many students can be accommodated will depend on the individual plan. The standards that must be met in those plans will be set by the Queensland government.

As I told parliament, there is still no clear direction on what schools need to do if boarders are to return. That has to come from the Queensland Government. We are going to be living with COVID19 for some time and the Minister for Education has to find a way to make it work.

Education Minister for All
She is responsible for the education and welfare of all Queensland’s students, regardless of the pandemic. Minister Grace and Minister Miles must put their shoulders to the wheel, not just issue a media statement saying, “problem solved”.

Give Us A RoadMap for Boarding
We have “Roadmaps” for Sport and “Roadmaps” for Business. Give us a “RoadMap” for Boarding Education.

Remember, every school – from the smallest bush Primary to the most fabulous inner-city college - must already have a COVID19 protocol in case of a COVID19 patient on their campus. This involves contact tracing, closure, cleaning and re-opening.

Boarding schools are not that different and any COVID19 plans should be judged in the context of the existing COVID19 protocol.

Parliamentary Report
I started these newsletters to give people reports on Queensland Parliament. I wanted to let people in Gregory know about new laws that might affect them. I hoped they would spark conversations and interest. However, COVID19 seems to have taken them over!

I will write a separate report about the major piece of legislation pushed through parliament this week. This concerned the so-called “Trad Laws” as well as extensive changes around our elections. This is a serious issue and I want to set out the details for you in a serious way.

But I will squeeze in a few other issues from this week.

More Red Tape for Volunteers

Volunteers in Queensland’s charities and not-for-profit organisations will have to deal with more red-tape and face tougher laws than corporate directors under new Palaszczuk Government laws.

Queenslanders who lead volunteer community groups will face similar onerous insolvency obligations as corporate directors do. It means volunteers will be exposed to the threat of legal prosecutions, but without the corporate lawyers to advise and defend them.

As Shadow Minister for Volunteers, this is about the best way I can think of to shut down volunteering in Queensland. Fines of up to $8,700 for volunteers who fail to prevent insolvent trading is way over the top.

Labor’s “Catch and Release” Laws Amended

Snuck through as one of 51 pages of amendments tacked onto the Community Services Industry (Portable Long Service Leave) Bill, was an important amendment to the Youth Justice Act.

It allows a minor to be retained in custody if the police can demonstrate there is a high chance of the child re-offending. While the Government stayed strangely quiet about it, this does offer a glimmer of hope to people in Gregory who have suffered from the youth crimewave affecting towns along the Capricorn Highway.

It is an admission that Labor’s Youth Justice Laws are failing communities, failing police, but most of all failing a whole cohort of young Queenslanders.

New Hope For Child Protection
My party, the LNP, this week released our policy on overhauling child protection services in Queensland.

The Department of Child Safety will become a stand-alone agency with a similar structure to the Queensland Police Service to ensure proper oversight and accountability.

Police to Clear Backlog
Experienced Queensland Police investigators will be brought in to clear a backlog of cases and overhaul investigation procedures for high risk cases. New shift arrangements will ensure child protection officers are available 24/7 and a rapid response team will be on stand-by around the clock.

Adoption Increase
There will be focus on the under-fives, with an emphasis on permanency including adoption. This was recommended by the Carmody Inquiry but seems to have gone nowhere. Of the 142 carer adoptions of Australian children in 2018-19, 136 occurred in NSW. There were only six for the entire remainder of the nation.

Compulsory Drug Testing
It breaks my heart that in cases like Mason Jett Lee’s, children are being handed back to abusive carers over the arguments of doctors who are treating the abuse. Many of the children in our system are there as the result of drug and substance abuse by their parents. The LNP will introduce compulsory drug-testing with no second chances to combat escalating drug addictions.

Rural Firies or Border Force?

In the “Would You Believe It?” category, rural fire volunteers in areas near the NSW-Queensland border are being asked to patrol the border closures.

It might save on the police over-time bill, but I don’t know how many volunteer firies will be putting their hand up to stand around all night in the dark and cold. Particularly as they don’t have any powers to enforce road closures unless there is a fire.

Apparently real police will do any enforcement and the volunteer firies will just be keeping the border posts “tidy.”

Thank You
Thank you for reading this and engaging with the issues affecting Queensland. If you wish to share this information, please feel free to simply forward this email.

If you have received this letter from a friend and want to subscribe, email me at gregory@parliament.qld.gov.au or visit lachlanmillarmp.com.

If You Need Help

As always, if you have a comment or an issue to raise, you can simply contact me by return email.

If you need help or advice, please don’t hesitate to ring and we will do our very best for you. (Emerald Office PH 07 4913 1000; Longreach Office PH 07 4521 5700.)

Kindest Regards,

Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.