This morning’s headlines have the nation shaking their heads over the brazen use of COVID19 for political point-scoring by the Queensland Premier.
It is infuriating. It is absolutely disgraceful and worst of all it treats Queenslanders with utter disrespect.
Respect our Sacrifices
Like other Australians, Queenslanders have willingly sacrificed some pretty serious civil rights to assist the Palaszczuk Government in managing the corona virus. The Premier should treat that on-going sacrifice with the respect it deserves.
We are 18 months into this pandemic. People have some right to expect consistency, fairness and timeliness.
Random Changes are Not Respect
Instead, whether they realise it or not, Queenslanders are being treated with contempt. Rule changes are never explained, so they seem completely random. And there is the distinct feeling of a theatre performance about most of the Premier’s COVID media conferences.
Let’s look at the last two weeks.
Being Loved to Death
Last week, the Premier fronted her morning media conference and announced that she was slamming the borders closed because Queensland was being “loved to death”.
Smiling and twinkling for the cameras, she said “If you aren’t getting on a plane right now, your Queensland entry pass is invalid.” The media conference was at 10.30 AM. All the approved border passes became invalid at noon.
Marooned - A Queenslander’s Story
Imagine yourself waiting in a gate lounge at Sydney airport with your partner and children. Everyone’s a bit down because Grandad has just passed away. You’ve all come down to say good bye and stayed on for the funeral and to settle Grandma.
Booked in to Do Your Bit
It was a bit rushed because you had to get things sorted so you can all do hotel quarantine for two weeks when you get back. That’s going to cost you $5,000 for two weeks of hell, but you really had no choice. And really, you are happy to do your part in fighting COVID19.
“Have you got everyone’s entry passes,” your wife asks anxiously.
“Hang on,” you say, fixated on the TV in the gate lounge.
Your Border Passes Are Now Un-Approved
There is your Premier smilingly telling the camera that because your flight leaves at 12:15pm, your documents are now invalid. Don’t board the plane because you’ll be turned around.
Even the journalists are struggling to believe this refers to returning Queenslanders. You are now locked out of your own state.
Money, Clothes, Accommodation – For How Long?
You’ve done your dough on the airfares for four. Your next thought is how can we get our suitcases off the plane, because we are going to need them.
You now have to find somewhere to stay for up to a month, or possibly more. No one knows.
Three Thousand Marooned
Why? Because you can’t reapply to come home until September 8. When you do reapply, the Premier can’t say how long the processing backlog will take. With 3,000 people locked out, it could be a while.
It’s All On You to Fix It
When you can reapply, first of all you will have to book your own hotel room from the government designated list.
When you submit that information, you will then be approved to travel back to Queensland – but only if you fly within a specified window of time. It will be up to you to secure flights within that window, or your passes will be invalid. God forbid, your flight is delayed.
Some Pointed Questions
Putting aside the callous rudeness, 18 months into this pandemic here are some questions you’d probably want answered:
When was a “cap” introduced on domestic travellers? The federal government has always put a cap on returning overseas travellers – we know that.
But Queensland is the only state locking out its own people. So when did the Premier invent this “cap”? How many is it and how was it calculated?
Qld Full, But Hotels Vacant
Why is she saying Queensland is full when there are empty hotel rooms from Cairns to Coolangatta?
Time for Home Quarantine Yet?
With 18 months having passed, why has she not tested home quarantine for all returning Queenslanders and for people relocating to Queensland who have a private house they can use?
We’ve Run the Pilot Study in Real Time
The fact that between 13,000 and 19,000 Queenslanders home quarantined to crush the Indooroopilly delta cluster in just nine days, suggests we just completed our own pilot study of the effectiveness of home quarantine in Queensland.
Yet the Premier pays that no heed and says she is watching the international trial in SA. Let Queenslanders quarantine in their own homes before you give it to overseas arrivals.
Perfectly Scripted Drama
Of course, anyone who watches the media conference as “performance-art” knew this one was just the “Boom” before the “Tish”!
On Thursday, Act Two had Annastacia and her supporting players – CHO, Deputy Steven Miles and the Health Minister - standing in a paddock in front of a large piece of earthmoving equipment. It appeared to be digging random holes.
Glowing with excitement, the Premier announced that Queensland was “going it alone” and building a 1,000 bed quarantine facility at Wellcamp.
Doubling Over at Taxpayers’ Expense
Given that the federal facility at Pinkenba is underway, this is hardly “going it alone”. This is “going as a duplicate”.
It will be a milestone for the Wagner family who are developing an entertainment precinct on the site. When quarantine is no longer needed, there will be a ready-made village for people to stay in.
Ignore the Commercial Aspects
But for the Government, the challenge was how to justify a commercial-in-confidence arrangement?
Clearly, the border closure earlier in the week was to demonstrate that without the Wellcamp facility, Queenslanders would have to be locked out every other week.
I’m sure He Knows Now!
“Had the Premier informed the Prime Minister?” asked a journalist. With rude smugness, the Premier said, “I’m sure he knows now!” And everybody had a chuckle.
Forget Hotel California
If she is building a special camp for it, how long is the Premier going to charge Queenslanders every time they leave the state?
Remember, the Government sets the prices. At the moment it is $5,000 per family of four plus the cost of two weeks leave to cover your time in the camp.
Random Unpaid Leave, Perhaps?
Does the Premier not know that by the time they look after children during the school holidays, normal people don’t have that amount of holiday leave to spare?
Many will have to do without if their boss won’t approve unpaid leave.
More Pointed Questions
Some other questions the Premier should answer include:
Is there a contract between the Queensland Government and the Wagner family that sets a time period the Government must lease the camp?
Does this mean we will be forced into domestic quarantine for all of 2022, despite vaccination?
And lastly, why is she only building a quarantine facility now, when we will be vaccinated by Christmas? She’s had 18 months when it would have been more useful.
The Problems with Mass Quarantine at Wellcamp
What’s more, the federal facility at Pinkenba is due to open around the same time. It doesn’t have transport issues, being only a few minutes from Brisbane’s domestic and international terminals, as well as our top hospitals.
No Airline Has Enough Insurance
By contrast, Wellcamp has no air traffic control and no emergency services. It is unlikely any airline in the world carries enough insurance to risk using it for passengers.
DP says Put ‘Em On a Bus
The Deputy Premier said the Queensland Government would bus people up to Wellcamp.
Two Hours Pick Up
So, next year you return from seeing Grandma in Sydney and wait around Brisbane airport in your mask for the Wellcamp bus to collect you and your fellow travellers off other flights. The bus also has to stop to pick up some overseas travellers at the international terminal. So far, this has only taken about two hours, if you are lucky.
Two Hours Travel
Now you have a jolly two hour bus trip to reach the camp. If one of those travellers has COVID19, what are the chances you all have it by the time you get there?
COVID a Dead Cert
Real world experience with airport shuttle-bus and limo drivers shows that, sooner or later, it’s a dead cert.
Then they’ll have to give you a medical evacuation back to Brisbane.
Then Parliament Resumed
And that brings us to this week’s parliamentary sitting.
The most important piece of business was the extension of the COVID19 Emergency Response and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. It has been extended again until April 2022.
Powers Extended to April 2022
This is the bill that gives extraordinary powers to the Chief Health Officer and the Palaszczuk government for the purpose of managing coronavirus. I know constituents have said to me they are wanting to hear this properly debated, not just ticked through each time the powers are extended.
Debate Shut Down
The Opposition and the other non-government MPs asked for this debate, but it was guillotined on the ALP numbers 50 votes to 37. In the time allowed, it became clear from the MPs who were allowed to speak that many Queenslanders are feeling distressed. They want the random changes to stop. They want the performances to stop. They want a clear plan.
Question time on all three days saw the most spiteful and childish performance from the Premier and her ministers. Treasurer Dick said the NSW liberal party was “chockful of crazies” until the Speaker made him withdraw the remark.
The Premier actually accused the Opposition of wanting to see Queenslanders die!
Let’s be clear. No-one wants to see any deaths. No one wants anyone to die and it is petty politics to try and smear anyone with such an accusation.
We Just Want a Progress Report
But as grown-ups who are 18 months into managing this, we would like a progress report. How has the Queensland Government used this luxurious amount of time to prepare for opening up? I say “luxurious”, because the rest of the world had to make it up as they went along. We could plan and prepare. That’s why Queenslanders have made the sacrifices we have.
More Pointed Questions
How many ventilators and ICU beds have been added to our hospitals for when lockdowns are lifted?
What plans have been put in place to manage cases that don’t require hospitalisation?
Has she increased our testing capacity, because testing will be a key tool for months if not years to come.
Has she looked seriously at the use of rapid testing kits and how that can improve our management of corona virus? Has she perhaps ordered some?
What extra staff and resources have been added to our contract tracing unit to expand its capacity? This, too, will be required for a long time regardless of vaccinations.
Key Duties that Should have Been Done
These are all key duties the Palaszczuk Government should have attended to by now.
And then that Plane Arrived
The lowest point was reached when a charter plane landed in Brisbane with 100 NRL players’ wives, girlfriends, children and officials. A clever constituent pointed out that if you count the number of players in the competition, this plane is by no means the last one.
It Wasn’t Me
The Premier said she hadn’t made the decision to exempt them; the Chief Health Officer had.
No Cap on the Rich and Famous
Anyway, she said they weren’t included in the quarantine “cap”. Which just brings us back to the question of who made up this domestic “cap”, given we only heard of it the previous Tuesday.
Bread Crumbs to Soak Up the Outrage
The outrage was so loud that even the Premier had to pay attention. As a sop, she said she would re-open 50 quarantine hotel rooms on Saturday. A drop in the ocean, but it made a good distraction.
I Want My Mummy
The case of Memphis, a loveable three year old who had been stranded in NSW by the Premier’s policy, gained coverage. Why was he left to cry for his mummy when he was in a COVID free area and returning to a COVID free area. Angel Flight even offered to fly him back, directly from one town to the other.
Of course he could have an exemption, said Dr Young. He has already got an exemption and the exemptions unit was talking with the family about arrangements, the Premier told the House.
Don’t Explain, Don’t Apologise
Unfortunately, his mother shot back in the media. She had lodged an exemption request and been told she had no hope of receiving one because Memphis was able to continue staying with his grandparents. Then days had gone by with their calls unanswered.
This is a common experience for people seeking exemptions. So we want to know whether the exemptions unit have sufficient staff. What is the average timeline? Do they bother telling you when it is refused? Are the applications sorted into order of priority? Is there are a COVIDsafe plan for people seeking home quarantine due to medical conditions and how many have been granted? To my mind, by now this should be standard.
We Won’t Be Opening Up
By the last sitting day, it had become clear there were no answers. It also became clear that the Premier does not intend to open up when vaccinations reach 80 per cent.
What About the Children
Instead the Premier seemed to be demanding that children under 12 be vaccinated first. No country in the world has approved the vaccination of children under 12. There does not yet seem to be a strain of COVID19 that makes healthy children at serious risk.
Mass Deaths Despite Vaccination
Then the Premier, waving around a single sheet of paper, said the Doherty modelling showed that even with 70 percent of adults being vaccinated, 2240 people will die each month.
And so this morning, the papers’ headlines blast “Premier’s Fake News” and “Misleading from the Front”.
Even this morning’s breakfast TV said you can’t just make up your own facts like this.
National Plan Predicts 13 Deaths
Because it turns out that those mass deaths are only if we open up without any other pre-cautions – or even a single pre-caution.
So, we close down our contact tracing unit and our Check In Qld app. We close down our testing. We stop isolating cases. No social distancing. Is she mad?
Use All Tools but Free Movement Allowed
The National Cabinet plan Premier Palaszczuk agreed to involves using all those tools and more.
What it aims to do is get rid of lockdowns and border closures. It says, if 70 per cent of adults are vaccinated and we continue to use our other public health tools, the number of deaths in the first six months would be 13.
Financial, Social and Mental Health Benefits
To do this we would continue to use facemasks, hand sanitisers, social distancing rules and the Check In Qld app.
But, we could travel anywhere we wanted and do pretty much what we would normally do. Family Christmases and beach holidays would be back.
Left With a Sinking Feeling
So we come to the end of a bewildering fortnight, none the wiser. Lots of questions, no answers and a sinking feeling that maybe none of the work has been done.
We do know our hospitals are struggling without COVID cases, and maybe that tells us the real reason we are all marooned.
Thanks For Staying Up to Date
Thanks for reading and staying up to date with the state issues and services that affect Gregory.
I did want to give a shout out to everyone who supported the Friends of BUSHkids golf day in Emerald last weekend. Sorry I couldn’t be there but I am told it was the best ever.
So it was strange to see Royal Far West signing people up for regular donations in Emerald Coles. They are the NSW equivalent of BUSHkids and I don’t think they offer services here. Be sure you know where your kind donations are going and if you can, please direct them locally. We need to build up our own “far west”.
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
Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade | Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Queensland
Deputy Chair – Queensland Parliamentary Transport and Resources Committee