I’ve spent the past week in Brisbane for the first sitting of the Queensland Parliament for 2021.
A Stormy Session
While storms rolled through Brisbane most afternoons, seeing lightning strikes and chunks of concrete dropping off the Parliamentary Annexe from a great height, inside observers were treated to a smug and spite-filled performance from the government benches.
Miracle of Unity
This was counter-balanced by a miraculous moment of unity when all the cross-benchers joined the LNP to vote in support of an LNP motion to reform Queensland’s estimates hearings.
You may recall that after the Palaszczuk Government finally presented Queenslanders with a state budget in November, there were two weeks of committee examination of the budget which sank without a trace in December. When the questions got searching, few answers were forthcoming.
So, this week, the LNP called for a review of the rules governing estimates to ensure that the actions and decisions of ministers and bureaucrats can be properly scrutinized.
Despite KAP, PHON, the sole independent MP and even the Greens joining us in support of the motion, the Government voted it down on the ALP numbers. I fear this will be the over-arching theme of this parliament.
Some Big Announcements
The Government used the week to drop a number of startling announcements. Not least was the news that Queensland is being treated as the preferred bidder for the 2032 Olympics.
The host will be the south-east corner - especially Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. So, it was interesting to see Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate respond to the announcement by saying Gold Coast ratepayers would not be funding any of the cost of hosting the Olympics.
The Premier said she will ensure that the benefits are shared across the regions, but it has met with a subdued response because it is obvious that winning the bid will see further revenues diverted from the regions to the south-east corner.
Voluntary Assisted Dying Update
On Tuesday, the Attorney General tabled an update from the Queensland Law Reform Commission regarding their review of a legal framework for voluntary assisted dying in Queensland. You can read the review here .
May 10 Deadline
The chairman, Justice Peter Applegarth, said the QLRC hoped to complete the review and provide well-drafted legislation by the scheduled date of May 10, 2021. However, he couldn’t exclude the possibility that more time might be needed.
The Attorney General told the House the review had received 124 submissions from a wide variety of stakeholders and all submissions had received close examination.
What, not Whether
She said that “the QLRC’s task is not to consider whether Queensland should have voluntary assisted dying legislation”. The Premier promised it during the election campaign. Having been re-elected with an increased margin, she clearly considers that she has a mandate and has the numbers, even though MPs will have a conscience vote.
For All Queenslanders
So, the QLRC review is focused on what model for voluntary assisted dying is best suited to Queensland’s unique conditions.
The Attorney General told the House these include our geography, different access to doctors and hospitals and the fact that many Queenslanders live remotely. In Gregory, over half of us live remotely or very remotely, so this will be directly relevant to us.
Some of the issues the QLRC is grappling with include whether terminally ill Queenslanders who wish to use voluntary assisted dying could use the phone or use telehealth to consult a doctor.
It is also looking at the issues about how the patient will physically access a suitably qualified health practitioner to administer the lethal substance.
The report also outlines eight principles that are guiding the commission’s work. One important one is the principle that every person should be provided with high quality care and treatment, including palliative care, to alleviate suffering.
Access to Care
This is a fine principle – but the track record, in my experience, is very uneven. To this end, I tabled a Question on Notice this week seeking data on just what funding is available to my constituents for the delivery of palliative care on the Central Highlands. I will be following up in the next sitting week regarding funding in western Gregory.
Only for the Few
When discussing VAD many people seem to see it as a magic solution for all. In fact, only one or two per cent will probably get to use it. But one hundred percent of us, even with VAD, will need palliative care.
Justice Applegarth has made very clear that the legislation is to be about individuals who are dying, that is people who have a terminal diagnosis, and wish to end their suffering.
People should be aware that the legislation will not be broadly inclusive. As a legislator I will be considering this aspect very carefully because it is this aspect that will be most controversial and where bad actors could abuse the intention of the legislation.
Tell Me Your Opinion
I welcome your feedback on the issues around these laws. You can ring my offices or email me at [email protected] to let me know. But be aware, whether we like it or not, the 2020 election results mean the debate is now around what will be the law, not whether we will have the law. This because the Government has the numbers to carry any law they wish to pass. That’s democracy, as someone once said.
Youth Crime Changes
After widespread community outrage about youth crime across the State, the Government introduced amendments to its youth justice laws this week.
Bail Presumption Changed
Most importantly, a presumption against bail will be created for certain young offenders. Note this will only apply to certain offenders: 16 and 17 year olds who are charged with certain offences when they have previously been found guilty of an indictable offence.
GPS Trackers and Knife Searches
The courts will also be given the power to order young offenders who are on bail to wear GPS trackers. Police will be empowered to search people for knives without needing a warrant if they refuse to submit to having a metal detector wand being used to scan them.
This seems strange given that police already have the power to search any person they reasonably consider might be carrying a concealed weapon.
Not a Policing Issue
The LNP will support any amendments that will assist in addressing the current situation Queenslanders are suffering. However, as I have said before, the issue is not a policing issue. It is about what is happening under Labor’s current youth justice laws after the police have caught the offenders.
Work Load Strains Police
The amendments come at a time when Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll has said the Queensland Police Service is “inundated”. As a result, police are changing the way officers to are assigned to incidents as they are called in.
Policing By Phone
In the past five years, calls to police have increased by 45% and calls to Triple Zero have increased by 65%. Previously calls have been prioritized from Code 1, being most urgent, to Code 4, being least urgent.
A new Code 5 status has now been added for matters that can best be managed over the phone rather than having police attend.
NSW Pot Shots
The Queensland Government also continued to throw coronavirus pot shots at NSW this week. Despite the Gold Coast University Hospital delivering Queensland’s first Pfizer vaccine jabs, the Premier declared that Queensland would not vaccinate Gold Coast residents who work across the border in the Tweed health services.
This is a NSW responsibility, she snapped. So these Queenslanders will have to travel to Coffs Harbour to get their shots. Never mind that they are frontline workers, returning home to Queensland after every shift and putting their families and friends at risk – in Queensland!
Dodging our Quarantine Bill
The Deputy Premier also took a shot at NSW by declaring we would not honour an agreement made by all the treasurers to cover the quarantine bill for their own returning residents. Queensland owes NSW $30.11 million for quarantining 7,112 Queenslanders in its hotels between March and September.
Outraged – or Just Broke?
Our Deputy Premier declared himself “outraged” and said he would not be paying while the Commonwealth Government refuses to endorse his plan for a national quarantine camp at Wellcamp.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth keeps saying they have not received any formal proposal from Queensland, only dot points.
It seems to me Minister Miles might be well advised to do his own homework before embarrassing Queensland in this way. More cynical commentators have suggested it only highlights how broke we are.
Our borders continue to open and close. The Queensland border will re-open to Victoria from 1 am tomorrow. All travellers from Victoria will no longer be required to apply for a border declaration pass.
However, on Wednesday travellers from New Zealand were advised they will be required to complete 14 days hotel quarantine on entering Queensland. This follows some cases of community transmission being detected there.
Travel Remains a Judgement Call
With all states except NSW relying on borders as the main tool in the COVID19 toolbox, interstate travel remains very much an individual judgement call. Even with vaccines, this may not change for quite some time. You can check border arrangements on line, or ring my office and we will check them for you.
Queensland’s Vaccine Roll Out
Members were given a briefing on Queensland’s vaccine roll out this week. There are a few things to highlight. The responsibility is shared between the Commonwealth and State governments.
The Commonwealth is running the vaccine rollout through GPs and some pharmacies. The Queensland Government will run the vaccine roll out through Queensland hospitals.
The plan is to start in March and April. It is hoped the entire vaccination program will have been completed by October, 2021.
No Child Vaccinations
The vaccinations will not be offered to children, so we must aim to have as many adults vaccinated as possible.
Priorities in Order
The vaccinations will be delivered to priority workers and the most vulnerable people first. You can read the details here. The short take is it will be a while yet before most of us will be asked to access the vaccine.
In Gregory, we will be receiving the Astra Zeneca vaccine. I’ll let you know when and where after the first phase is completed.
Vaccine Email Scams
Just a warning on email phishing scams. They have flourished in the US and the UK as the vaccines have been rolled out there. No doubt we will see them here too. It is believed they are coming from Russia.
They appear as emails from health insurers, drug companies or even hospitals or doctors. Don’t click on links in such emails. Just delete them.
ANZAC Day Ceremonies Allowed
This week the Premier also announced that ANZAC Day ceremonies and gatherings will be allowed to proceed as normal across Queensland. This includes dawn services, marches and other commemorations.
Outdoor events will not require sign-ins, however indoor events will still require the normal COVID19 sign-ins in case they are required for contact tracing after the event.
Community Road Safety Grants
The 2021 Community Road Safety Grants program is now accepting applications until April 9, 2021.
These are grants of up to $20,000 for short term projects that improve local road safety. Previous recipients have included schools running bicycle safety and road safety courses, community groups running information sessions on child car restraints and even caravan driving skill courses.
Community groups and not-for-profit organisations can apply here.
To finish the week on a lighter note, this morning the Premier has issued not one, but two, media releases about rock group KISS “inking a deal” with her to come and perform in Brisbane and Townsville later this year.
In the first one she urges: “Queensland get ready to Rock and Roll All Night” (get it?). In the second one, it is Townsville rather than Queensland.
The ALP Member for Townsville joins in stating “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You but the Premier gave KISS to Townsville.”
The Member for neighbouring Thuringowa urges us to “Pucker up for a great weekend on 4 December”.
Just how much “inking a deal” with these wealthy 70 year old seniors in their leather pants and make-up cost the Queensland taxpayer is not revealed.
Leader of the Opposition to Visit
Next Tuesday and Wednesday the Leader of the Opposition, David Crisafulli, will be joining me in Muttaburra and Longreach. If you see us about the traps, please come up and say g’day.
Thanks for Reading
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Thanks for reading – and “fingers crossed” for some of that rain!
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory
Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Queensland
Deputy Chair – Transport and Resources Committee