My best description of parliament this week is hysteria and “Hail Marys”.
Give Us Some Divine Intercession
A “Hail Mary”, in American football, is a long, forward pass made in the last minutes of a game in a desperate attempt to win. It is named after the beloved Catholic prayer for divine intercession because it needs a bit of that too.
It seems to me like we could all use some divine intercession this week.
The week kicked off with a Courier Mail report saying the Palaszczuk Government has recorded the lowest number of new laws for more than 20 years. Worse still, says the Courier Mail, the Palaszczuk Government struggles to manage even that small workload because they allow so few Parliamentary sittings.
Too Late When the Farewells Are Said
The article pointed out that in the same week the Premier has hosted a farewell for outgoing Governor Paul de Jersey, about 12 MPs are still to make their Address-in-Reply.
What’s an Address-in-Reply?
When the Governor opens a new parliamentary term (four years), he reads a speech outlining the new Government’s plans.
Traditionally, each MP then responds in reply - outlining their hopes for their electorate. This should have been completed months ago. At this rate the Governor will have been replaced while MPs are still replying to him. Laughing stock, much?
Maybe they Just Don’t Know What to Do?
If you look at just this week, you can see clearly what the problems are but Manager of Opposition Business Jarrod Bleijie gave us a big hint when he told the Courier Mail, “We now have chaotic sittings in parliament where it’s clear government members run around like headless chooks with … nothing on the agenda.”
Can We Talk About Something Serious?
Robbie Katter chimed in telling the Courier Mail there are some very serious problems to discuss “and we come down here and we just hear about the Olympics and new ministerial announcements.”
He’s quite right. Off the top of my head, here are some serious issues the Premier and her Ministers failed to address in Parliament this week:
The Mayor of Barcaldine Charged for Representing His Shire!
On Wednesday last week Queensland reaped the harvest of the Palaszczuk Government’s so-called local government “reforms”.
We learned that Barcaldine Shire Mayor, Cr Sean Dillon, has been under investigation by the Office of the Independent Assessor for eight months.
We Need a Plan that will Work
His offence? Criticising the way Queensland Health proposed to roll-out the COVID19 vaccines to his shire. When the plans were presented at an open council meeting, Cr Dillon raised some very valid concerns of a practical nature about timing and access, especially for older citizens and smaller towns.
A Detriment to Qld Health!
A complaint was lodged against him that his comments were “detrimental to public confidence in a health service provider and lead agency in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program in the region.”
Back in the Real World -
Back in the real world, Cr Dillon was actually doing his job by trying to ensure that Queensland Health understood the challenges they faced in his neck of the woods.
Back in the real world, subsequent events have showed Cr Dillon’s concerns were correct and the roll-out plans were adapted accordingly, months ago.
Meanwhile, Steven Miles’ Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) was still considering Cr Dillon’s Free Speech defence against their charges of “Inappropriate Conduct”.
Instead of dropping the charges, they upgraded them to “Misconduct”.
As the Courier Mail editorialized “This cannot stand. It is an affront to free speech.”
Bad enough that Cr Dillon has had this hanging over his head like a sword of doom for eight months, he must have felt totally insulted this week when the head of the OIA said the code of conduct she is supposed to use to guide her decisions is so broad that she can’t use it.
Fix It or Test It in Court
She said that unless the Palaszczuk Government amends their legislation, the only way she can clarify the law is by taking a case to court. It would appear that test case is the Barcaldine Mayor.
Sorry, Sean, You Were Just a Political Pawn
I attended Ministerial Statements every morning this week expecting the Local Government Minister and Deputy Premier Steven Miles, to give the House an explanation of the problems and how he proposes to fix the faulty laws.
An apology to Cr Dillon would also have been courteous. The arrogant way he has been treated is unbelievable and I commend him for hanging tough.
Laws Weaken Local Government
Long-time Mayor of Rockhampton Margaret Strehlow was similarly targeted and resigned rather than comply with the OIA order. But many councillors have been investigated in an intimidatory way that has seen some resign. We are losing good people from local government because of these bungled laws.
So What Did We Get from Steven Miles?
What we got was a few words in a ministerial statement about COVID19 vaccinations saying he had briefly attended the LGAQ conference in Mackay and heard their concerns. He has asked the parliamentary committee to inquire into whether the OIA is applying its powers in the public interest.
More to the Story
To be fair, his letter giving the committee its terms of reference reveals that the Local Government Department has been aware of the problems since earlier this year. That only makes the whole thing worse and the attack on Cr Dillon more calculated.
In a nutshell, the problems with the OIA exist because there are problems with the Palaszczuk Government’s legislation. Minister Miles must fix it as a matter of urgency. When you gag local councillors, you rob the people of democratic representation.
Another Untold Story
It’s not every week that Queensland prison officers, at risk of their lives, have to call for back up and use shotguns and all types of gas available to them including pepper spray, fogging and hand-held grenades.
I Won’t Go To My Room
A 16 hour riot at the Capricornia Correctional Centre, a bit over 130 kilometres from Gregory’s eastern boundary, erupted last Thursday October 21 when maximum-security inmates didn’t want to return to their cells.
Damage Bill for Taxpayers
Photographs in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin show the extent of the damage the rioting prisoners caused. The maximum security prisoners damaged their own unit, smashing plumbing, tearing fixtures and toilets from walls, before kicking down a fence to gain access to the residential compound.
At this point, another 20 residential prisoners joined in taking the number of rioters to about 90. They destroyed multiple officers’ stations, units and cells, lit fires and smashed cameras.
Molotov Cocktails and Petrol Sniffing
They managed to break into a garden shed and source petrol which they used to make Molotov cocktails, as well as injecting, inhaling and ingesting it. It finally ended at 2.30 am the following day, Friday, when the last group surrendered and returned to their cells.
Don’t You Worry About That
You might have missed the story. The Department was certainly not commenting. Queensland Corrective Services told the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin that as an investigation was underway…it would be premature to speculate on these events.
Following Sergeant Schulz
It must have been life-threatening for the prison staff. Every morning I expected the Minister for Police and Correctional Services to give a ministerial statement updating the House.
On Tuesday morning he did give us a Ministerial Statement, but only to tell us that corrective services staff are being encouraged to have their COVID19 Jabs. The riot wasn’t mentioned. So, like Sergeant Schulz, “We know nothing”.
Small Businesses Burnt
I also wanted to hear from Minister Mick de Brenni in relation to his new laws which commence on Monday. These laws relate to the maintenance of fire hoses, alarms and fire extinguishers in businesses and venues across the state. Or rather, to the technicians who maintain them.
Rural Qld Needs Technicians Scaled to Our Regions
In regional and rural Queensland these services are provided by mum and dad operators.
Not Legal Without Them
While they appear humble, make no mistake – their service is an essential service. We all have fire safety legislation which we must comply with in order to operate our businesses. Without these technicians, many of us couldn’t legally open our doors, commercially speaking.
Or You Can Pay a Big Business More – if you can get them
Or rather, we would have to pay the big companies to travel out to us at their convenience and our expense and inconvenience. But from Labor’s point of view, these workers are unionized employees – unlike mum and dad in the bush
Shutting Up Shop
Some months ago, I sat down with a constituent in Emerald who had started his own small business in fire maintenance services over 20 years ago. Prior to that, he had a long career as a technician in telecommunications.
Rodney has run his Fire Services business without blemish for more than 20 years, keeping up with professional education all that time. He was that rare gem – proficient, efficient, based here and prepared to travel in the district to businesses that needed him.
WA Here He Comes
Rodney told me sadly that he was shutting up shop and moving to Western Australia where he would still be allowed to work. Because Minister de Brenni’s new licensing requirements have invalidated all his accreditation and experience.
Three Year Apprenticeship to Keep on Working
To continue working in Queensland he will now require a Certificate Three in Fire Protection qualification – which is a three year apprenticeship.
No RPL – No Grandfather Clause
There is no recognition of prior learning. There is no “Grandfather Clause” to recognise technicians working in the field already – even those who have worked for decades.
Only One Place You Can Do the Course
And the kicker is that the only place in Queensland allowed to offer the required course is the union-controlled Services Trade College in Brisbane.
So Rodney, a man in his fifties, would have to leave his home and family without an income, relocate for three years, find accommodation and pay to learn what he already knows.
400 Businesses to Close
It is estimated that more than 400 businesses across the state will lay off staff, face bankruptcy or – like my constituent Rodney – simply close when these laws come into effect on Monday. And life for regional and rural Queensland businesses will become just a little harder, a little less feasible, a lot more expensive.
This is how regional Queensland is dying the death of a thousand cuts, none big enough to kill on its own. But the cumulative effect is lethal. Chip, chip, chip.
“Rushed” Doesn’t Begin to Describe It
The laws were supposed to start in May, but the date was pushed back to November 1 because it was so rushed that even the QBCC staff weren’t across the changes.
Try “Ambushed” Instead
The Courier Mail reports that a former QBCC executive told them the QBCC was still updating its website about the changes the afternoon before they were due to commence. He described it as “chaotic”. This was the website that was supposed to inform the industry. No wonder they were completely ambushed.
Delay No Big Win
In effect, the delay in the start date only meant that technicians now had six months to complete a three year apprenticeship! Gee, thanks Minister.
Crickets in the House
Again, I waited for a Ministerial Statement so the Minister could tell the House how he was going to fix this problem and protect the capacity of this industry to continue serving Queensland, especially rural and regional Queensland.
Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Not a comment. Dare I say “ Crickets”?
So who benefits from this?
For that I suggest you listen to the LNP’s Shadow Minister for Public Works and Housing, Tim Mander MP. Back in September, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, he joined some dots and named some names. You can read that speech here.
And while Minister de Brenni had nothing to say to the House this week, Tim Mander did speak again. You can link to the Hansard proof here, then scroll down to that speech under “Matters of Public Interest”.
And From the Minister for State Potholes
I also hoped we would hear from Transport Minister Bailey in relation to the District Court ruling ordering a council to pay $300,000 to a motorist injured on a state-owned road – the Leichhardt Highway. The motorcyclist crashed after riding into a state-owned pothole and coming off her bike.
Even though it is a state-owned road, the Court held the council liable because it was maintaining the road under a Road Maintenance Performance Contract with Queensland Main Roads.
Unfair Burden for Ratepayers
LGAQ President Greg Hallam said the decision could set a precedent that would cause ratepayers to be unfairly burdened with maintenance issues on state roads.
If you are a ratepayer in a shire with dodgy state roads, you have every reason to be concerned. Given that we have a road maintenance deficit counted in billions of dollars, and are funding road maintenance at roughly fifty per cent of what is required, most councils outside SEQ will be very concerned.
Fix It Urgently Before Xmas Travel
The LGAQ is now calling on the Palaszczuk Government to either change the Civil Liabilities Act or to change the terms of the road maintenance contracts it strikes with councils.
Minister Bailey took time in the House to hold forth on railways in SEQ, the Cross-River Rail in Brisbane, the vaccination of truckies and a crackdown on distracted drivers.
Celebrating “Crickets” This Time
Nothing was said to the House on this.
But the Minister did issue a media release on Wednesday celebrating the “strong collaboration” between his department and local governments through the Roads and Transport Alliance.
What a taunt.
Western Councils Might Have to Invest in Signs
If he won’t look at the liability on councils as a result of these deals, perhaps the councils will have to become overly-exuberant with their caution signage on state roads.
On and On and ON
I have been repeatedly told by drive tourists that they can’t get over how they will pass a sign saying, “Rough Road Surface Next 22 kilometres”. When they drive 22 kilometres they reach another sign saying “Rough Road Surface Next 10 kilometres”, and so on and so on.
Tourists play a game counting them. Locals will tell you some of those signs have been there for years. At least it may save our councils from being sued for state government failings.
Unanswered Corona Virus Questions
We did get daily ministerial statements with a definite corona virus theme. That theme was that Queensland’s slow vaccination rate is all the LNP’s fault! Now it looks like they have dragged the chain, they want to blame everyone but themselves. Even the Premier’s dog Winton has had to carry his share of blame, if you recall.
I rather think the Premier’s own comments and behaviour, together with dramatic statements from the Chief Health Officer might be contributing causes of vaccine hesitancy.
No CHO on Monday
The tone of question time was also slightly hysterical which makes keen observers thoughtful about what is not being said.
Then late in the week the Health Minister released a brief statement saying Dr Krispin Hajkowicz will no longer be taking up the position of Chief Health Officer due to personal reasons.
With Dr Young taking up her governorship next week, we will still be recruiting a CHO to replace her. Fortunately, we have the deputy CHO Dr Peter Aitken to act in the role in the meantime. Queensland is actually at a very tricky part of our pandemic story.
Home Quarantine Trial – Crickets
So it would have been good to have a broader conversation about it in parliament this week. For instance, we weren’t given an update on the Home Quarantine trial.
How is it going? Is it likely to be introduced more widely for Queenslanders returning from interstate, or are we just going through a pretense? Marching on the spot until December 17?
Entry Pass Backlog - Crickets
I also would have liked an update on the backlog of border entry pass applications. I continue to receive almost daily requests for help and advice in relation to this.
I have no new advice to give and thousands of Queenslanders are still locked out of their homes and trapped interstate.
Protocols for Managing Case Surge
In The Australian on Tuesday Annastacia Palaszczuk vowed to push on with the state’s December 17 re-opening, even though parts of regional Queensland are unlikely to reach 80 per cent vaccination until next year.
As the Member for Gregory, I would urgently like to hear about the plans to manage any resulting surge in COVID19 cases in rural and regional Queensland.
Who Misses Out – Who Gets Priority?
We need to hear the protocol for managing cases at home that don’t require hospitalisation. Out here, our GPs already have full patient lists; they can’t just add on a surge of COVID19 cases without causing suffering to their non-COVID19 cases.
Will Queensland Health step up to the plate for home patients like NSW Health did? If the answer is yes, tell us the plan and the preparations.
Who Misses the Plane?
We need to hear that our medical air retrieval services are ready to cope with a COVID19 case load on top of their normal work.
If COVID19 cases are going to be prioritised for airplane retrieval, what happens to our stroke and heart attack victims, our burns and accident victims and our pregnancy crisis cases? We need to hear that plan.
Is there an ICU Triage Protocol?
And if the worst becomes worse, and the surge turns into a tsunami, please tell Queenslanders what the ICU Triage Protocol will be.
I know it exists, but it seems to be a secret. If we told Queenslanders about it, people could see that their decision about the vaccine is also a choice about hospital treatment.
When the Premier and the CHO tell Queenslanders that they are “protecting their communities by getting the jab”, Queenslanders just think it is look-at-me flattery.
They’d Be Wrong
When you make the decision to get that jab, you are making the decision to leave that ICU bed free for someone who has no choice in needing it: a burns victim from a mining accident, a stroke victim, a child with cancer experiencing a medical crisis.
Your Choice is Important
When you make your choice about whether you are going to get vaccinated, you are also making your choice about these harder decisions too, whether you know it or not.
Your choice is important both for you and for your community.
Look at Alberta’s Choices
A real life example of this is Alberta, Canada. They seem to have decided COVID19 patients will get ICU priority.
When their ICU bed occupancy rate gets to 90 per cent, Alberta will “de-prioritise” other patients with certain conditions including severe dementia, advanced cancer, bad burns or at a high risk of stroke. The COVID19 patient will get the bed.
COVID Before Sick Kids
At 95 percent, even critically-ill children will be triaged according to their likely survival and life expectancy.
This Should Shock You
This should shock you. It shocked me. I better understand the reports of doctors and nurses weeping in corridors as they coped with Delta surges.
And remember, Queensland is facing this situation with ambulance ramping at double the rate of NSW and Victoria. We are going into this new phase with a hospital system that continually collapses into Code Yellows.
You aren’t just deciding to protect yourself when you get the jab. You are adding your pebble to the pile that decides who gets the space on the plane. Who gets the ICU bed. Because make no mistake, we will get a surge, at the very least. NSW and Victoria tell us that.
Queensland’s Hail Mary Pass
We need to lift our vaccination rates, especially for the age group from 24 to 39 years.
And we need to lift the rate fast, because people only have five days left to be fully protected before December 17.
This is a bit like Douglas Flutie throwing a 52 yard pass for the winning touchdown with six minutes to go. But I think we can do it. Queenslanders are good at pulling together.
Mass Vax Hub for Central Highlands
If you live on the Central Highlands, there will be a mass vaccination hub operating on Saturday at the Emerald State High School. I believe you can just walk in.
So In the End - What Did Parliament Do This Week?
The Premier and Minister for the Olympics introduced the bill to set up the organizing body. We learned that she is going to exempt the Brisbane Olympics Organising Committee from the Right To Information laws.
Imagine that! Eleven years of secrets you don’t even have to worry about burying.
Debates – A Grand Total of Two
We debated Labor’s merging of public service superannuation. And we debated a bill which removes veterans from the board of the Anzac Day Trust Fund and replaces them with appointed public servants. You can read my speech here.
RED Grants Open
The next round of Rural Economic Development Grants are open for expressions of interest. These are co-contribution grants of up to $200,000 aimed at strengthening primary production and boosting jobs in rural communities.
Applications are through QRIDA and you can find out more here.
Ergon Jobs in Gregory Communities
Ergon has opened recruitment for about forty jobs across regional Queensland with depot-based positions in Blackwater, Blackall, Clermont, Emerald, Longreach, Springsure and Winton.
If you are interested, you can find more details here.
Palliative Care Information Sessions in Emerald
The Central Queensland, Wide Bay and Sunshine Coast Primary Health Network is running information sessions about end of life support and palliative care options on the Central Highlands.
In addition to a community session, there will be sessions for GPs and doctors as well as one for nurses and other health professionals.
Due to COVIDsafe requirements you must RSVP to attend. RSVPs close on November 12. You can find out more here.
ALPHA ICPA Cricket Day
Nominations open at 8 AM on November 1 for the annual Alpha Cricket Day in support of the Alpha Isolated Children’s Parents Association (ICPA). Match Day is January 8, 2022 at the Alpha Showgrounds. The teams are seven a side, not the usual eleven.
This is such a good day that they have had to limit the nominations to 28 teams. So don’t be slow to nominate. You can do that here.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading. Remember, 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. Or you can email me at [email protected]
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Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory