It’s been a busy week in parliament with lots of bits and pieces to tell you about so I’ll jump to it.
COVID19 Rules Eased for Easter
As of 1 am tomorrow (Saturday, March 13) private, outdoor gatherings can have up to 500 attendees. Private, indoor gatherings will be allowed up to 100 attendees.
Tents and Elevators Too
In a further move, clearly aimed at promoting Easter tourism, the existing rule limiting lifts to four passengers has been changed to six passengers. This will save family groups having to take their children up to their holiday rental in shifts.
The former rule limiting campsites to one person per two square metres has been done away with altogether.
Is the Pandemic Over?
No. In fact, yesterday Queensland announced five new cases in hotel quarantine, taking the total number of active cases in the state to 41, the highest we have had since the first wave back in March last year.
Quite a few of these cases have come into Queensland from Papua New Guinea where the corona virus situation is worrying. The Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeanette Young, has been quick to reassure Queenslanders this does not pose a huge risk as hotel quarantine is working.
Queensland has a policy that anyone diagnosed with COVID19 while in hotel quarantine is immediately transferred to a proper isolation bed in a hospital. I think this has prevented some of the problems we have seen with hotel quarantine in Victoria.
Phase One Vaccinations Help
The fact that we have started the vaccine roll-out will also help. Frontline health workers and hotel quarantine workers are both receiving vaccinations already. Over 13,000 such workers in Queensland hospitals and quarantine hotels have already been vaccinated as I write this.
The Premier said this week that by Easter most of these workers will have received their jabs. Dr Young has said that completing this first phase of vaccinations will “massively change” the way she is managing Queensland lockdowns and border closures.
It is a real juggling act because we really can’t afford to lose another peak tourism period at Easter. Summer holidays were badly affected by snap border closures.
This has left many people so frustrated that they are reluctant to travel interstate.
It is not just that you may find yourself choosing between losing two weeks in hotel quarantine or losing your travel and holiday deposits.
It is the frustration and disappointment. It is the fear that things may even change while you are en route. Luckily for us Queenslanders, it is no hardship to holiday at home at Easter. But we have lost a lot of reputation with our southern customers.
Tourism About Confidence to Make the Booking
The Premier now seems to understand the damage. She began the week telling other Australians they could feel “confident” about planning to holiday in Queensland.
Since the start of the year, Queensland has had snap border closures after very small outbreaks in Melbourne and Perth. In those cases, we closed our entire state to their entire states.
We have also had New Zealanders find, on arrival, that they were suddenly required to do hotel quarantine.
Then we had the 42 day closure to greater Sydney which ended on February 1.
Hopefully, the vaccines have arrived in time to limit the damage caused by constant border closures.
There Are No Guarantees – But there is Hope
Since February 27, Queensland has removed all border restrictions. But there are no guarantees it will stay like this.
The Government is funding a new $2 million advertising campaign promoting Queensland as a COVIDsafe holiday spot for interstate visitors.
But if the Premier is truthful, she really can’t guarantee that she won’t have to hit that border closure trigger again. If that happens, those interstate visitors will be cursing that they ever booked in Queensland.
Federal and State Tourism Packages
The advertising campaign is not the only attempt to prop up Queensland’s tourism industry. The federal government’s tourism rescue package will offer 800,000 half-priced holidays to regional tourism destinations that have been heavily impacted by the federal government’s closure of the international borders.
Queensland scored four of the nominated destinations in Cairns, the Whitsundays, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast. The price support is only for visitors coming to Queensland from interstate. The idea is to try and make up the lost international visitors with domestic tourism.
What About Drive Tourism?
The Premier complained that the Morrison Government should give the same subsidy to Queenslanders wanting to travel within Queensland.
I disagree, as that would actually have a really bad impact on drive tourism. People would be saying, “Why take a regional drive holiday when the federal government will pay for us to fly the family to the Sunny Coast?”.
Outback Beats the Whitsundays
Gregory has an expanding tourism industry and it is vital in trying to build economic diversity. We can’t afford to be a one-pony show.
Prior to COVID19, Outback Queensland cracked the one million visitors mark and last year I believe we outstripped the Whitsundays as a destination.
The great thing about tourism as an industry is that it allows both large and small operators to thrive and it is a people business that creates generates jobs, including great entry-level jobs for our youngsters.
Oversubscribed Cairns Vouchers
While the Premier bagged out ScoMo’s package to support only interstate travel to selected destinations, she launched a very selective program herself – the Cairns Holiday Dollars program. This is a capped $3 million program to provide 15,000 vouchers to spend on holidays in the Cairns area.
It was oversubscribed within 24 hours, with 106,212 people registering. The 15,000 vouchers will be allocated by a raffle draw today.
What About Some Outback Vouchers?
That’s a program I’d like to see extended to Gregory’s tourism industry. Every dollar spent on an Outback holiday is a dollar that supports our local jobs.
It’s surprising the number of allied industries tourism supports. The soaring popularity of craft brewing is an example. It is still a growing sector of the market, but it is rapidly giving different locations their own official “flavour”.
This week Parliament passed a new bill which will help craft brewers by allowing them to sell takeaway product, including on-line.
Be a King in Your Own Grass Castle – Betoota Bitter!
Of course, Gregory is already the “home” of Betoota Bitter, marketed as containing artesian bore water and made to a recipe “tried over a century of true trial and error”.
It also markets itself as Western Queensland’s favourite beer. I hope this new bill will see some challengers across the west. I know Peter Brown of Rubyvale is working on something.
Imagine visitors being able to sample craft brews from the Simpson Desert to the Central Highlands – and take some home as gifts and souvenirs.
Single Use Plastic Banned
The only other bill brought to Parliament this week was a bill to outlaw single use plastics. Polystyrene cups and takeaway containers, plastic cutlery and straws will all be banned from September 1, 2021.
This has massive community support and I thank the industry stakeholders who have worked with the Department to develop the definitions that a law like this has to be based on.
However, these stakeholders tend to be big business. You may have noticed Maccas has already moved to paper straws because they were well aware of this coming legislation.
Small Business Must Be Informed
Small businesses may not have known about it so I asked the Government to make sure they can easily access information about what products are banned and what alternatives are available.
I do support the bill because plastic pollution is everywhere. The only way to deal with it is to ban it at source, so we can start to clean up the mess.
The bill has some teeth. Businesses caught selling the prohibited items from September will face fines of more than $6,000.
More Irrigation Water from Rookwood
After 20 years of dodging and weaving about Rookwood Weir, it appears the solution was getting a Minister with a local stake in the game.
Minister Butcher announced in Parliament this week that the federal and state governments will kick in an extra $7.5 million each to raise the level of the Weir.
More Medium Priority Available
This will make a further 10,000 megalitres of medium priority water available and follows a long-running campaign by the LNP to see this Weir built to the original capacity proposed.
You may recall in 2019 secret redesigns threatened to reduce the capacity from 76 megalitres to 54 megalitres. Minister Lynham, who retired at the last election, blamed the redesign, in part, on budget limitations and the cost of concrete.
Must Have Got a Better Price on the Concrete
After furious rallies in Rockhampton, the Minister said the reduction might only be to about 66,000 megalitres. Restoring this 10,000 megalitres might just about bring the Weir back to the intended capacity.
Foleyvale Bridge Upgrade, Too
As part of this welcome back-flip, the Foleyvale bridge and approaches will also be upgraded which I know has been a great hope of the locals for a long time. Completion of the Rookwood Weir is slated for 2023.
Water is so vital to our prosperity. Managing Queensland’s water properly is one the best investments in climate change adaptation I can think of.
I used this sitting to lodge a Question on Notice with the Minister regarding any plans to restore the capacity of Bedford Weir near Blackwater. It has had overflows three times last year and each overflow represents the loss of 5,000 megalitres that was fully allocated and being productively used.
Meanwhile on the other side of Gregory, we have a serious problem with swarms of grasshoppers. With the Bureau of Meteorology predicting a La Nina year after an extended drought, you’d think the Minister would have had plans on stand-by for this sort of event.
While the drought isn’t over yet – nearly 70 per cent of the state is still drought declared – the parts of the Winton and Longreach Districts that received some summer rain are now seeing the grasses devoured.
Chemical Emergency Use Permit
After the Leader of the Opposition came to inspect the devastation, Minister Furner flew to Winton last Saturday. In parliament this week he announced that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has issued an Emergency Use Permit for fenitrothian as a chemical control. Click here to see more.
Furner – the Farmer’s Friend – Washes His Hands
However, Minister Furner has washed his hands of any further responsibility for containing the devastation and will not be providing any financial assistance to landholders seeking to use chemical control.
I was pretty scotty about this and raised it in the House. You can see my speech here.
The damage is now covering about 1.5 million hectares. Winton Mayor Gavin Baskett estimates at least $34 million worth of damage a year is being sustained by landholders. DAF is asking landholders to complete a grasshopper impact survey which you can do by clicking here.
Where do You Go to Report Child Safety Issues?
When the Premier announced her new cabinet after the 2020 election, it became apparent that the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women no longer exists. It has been split so that Children and Youth Justice are now grouped with Multicultural Affairs while a separate office for Youth now sits under the Minister for Environment and Science.
That is nicely confusing for everyone. It became relevant in Parliament this week.
Another Scathing Report on Mason Jett Lee
After the searing experience of the death of Mason Jett Lee, you’d think the Premier would be keeping a close eye on matters. But no, last Friday she finished her media conference without making reference to the latest report. You’d have to think the sneaky release of the report after the Premier had left was deliberate.
Report After Report – But no Responsibility
To recap, this is a death which shouldn’t have happened. The Coroner’s report identified 21 caseworkers from child protection who had “let Mason down in every possible way”.
No one was fired and the Premier just kept commissioning new reviews and saying she was waiting on the report from the latest.
Four Reports – and then, Too Late!
We’ve had the Child Death Case Review Report which came to exactly the same conclusion as the Coroner’s Report. We’ve had an Ethical Standards Review Report which substantiated allegations against 8 caseworkers. We were then told any action by the government must await a report by Public Service Commissioner.
Too Late – Nothing to Learn
That was the sneaky release last Friday. And it found it was too late to do anything. The Leader of the Opposition raised this outright abrogation of duty in the House. You can see his speech here.
13 More Deaths Since Mason
He told members that there have been 18 children who were known to child safety who have died in suspicious circumstances over the last five years. Eighteen! Thirteen of those have died since Mason died.
The Government response was to announce the hiring of another 153 child safety front line staff.
This is pointless if the culture isn’t fixed. They will still be repeating the behaviours and procedures that failed all these children.
Change the Thinking
That is why the LNP wanted to embed specialist Queensland Police officers into the Department to work side-by-side with child safety officers. To shift the culture and ensure protection of these children is the number one priority.
Assaults on Qld Teachers Skyrocket
Shadow Minister for Education, Dr Christian Rowan, told the House that student attacks on Queensland schoolteachers have skyrocketed. From 2015 to 2019, the number of suspensions of students for “attacks with objects” increased by 29 per cent to almost 2,000 incidents.
“Attacks without objects” jumped by more than 50 per cent to more than 3,300 reported incidents.
We need a coordinated plan to deal with this. How can we say that we are operating schools as no-bullying zones when this is happening in classrooms every day?
SES Volunteer Numbers
After 8 months of waiting, there were calls this week for the Government to release the secret report on the drastic decline in SES volunteers. We know the number of volunteers are dwindling. We hear it from the volunteers themselves and we see branches closing.
The Cairns Post reported that since 2004 the number of SES volunteers has fallen from 17,000 to just 5,200. If this is true, it is critical. Release the report and tell us what you are doing to fix the problem Minister Ryan.
School Bus Scheme
There is currently a Queensland Parliamentary petition calling for a review of the Student Transport Assistance Scheme to create a more flexible service. This is the school bus transport scheme.
I am regularly contacted by parents with issues about the school bus services run by Translink so I wanted to share the petition for those who would like to sign it. To read the petition click here.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading about the state issues that affect us here in Gregory.
As always, if you have an issue to raise or comment to make you can simply reply to this email and it will find me.
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Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory
Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Queensland
Deputy Chair – Queensland Parliamentary Transport and Resources Committee