National Cabinet meets today and Victoria will no doubt be the focus of discussions due to the large cluster of new COVID19 cases.
It has certainly sparked debate in the media, with some hyping it as Australia’s “second wave”.
Others argue that Australia’s quick response meant we didn’t even have a first wave. At least, not compared to other countries. I read today that Brazil recorded 35,000 new cases in a single day.
So, what have we done so right – and can we keep doing it?
International border closures and the compulsory quarantine of returning international travellers have played a huge part.
Part of shutting the gate, is enforcing quarantines. Around the world we have seen people ignore the fact that they are supposed to be in strict isolation.
Australia didn’t muck around. We put returning international travellers into hotel accommodations and supervised their stay. This was like preventing an arsonist from throwing kero on the burning boat.
The Anzac Spirit
We have also been blessed by the sensible, practical response of Australians themselves. In my job, I get asked to speak at Anzac Day ceremonies and I like to stress that the true Anzac legacy is in how we each express their spirit today: endurance, mateship, humour and a practical “make-it-work” response to challenges.
Make It Work
I have seen that in bucketloads in the way Australians have adapted to living in a pandemic. We have seen it during lockdown. We have seen it in the way everyone has adapted at work, in community and sports roles, we have seen it in schools and we have seen it at home.
We Stick Together
The National Cabinet is a reflection of that spirit, too. Comprising the commonwealth, state and territory leaders, it has emphasised co-operation, communication and helping each other.
It has given Aussies a much better response compared to our ally, the USA. With 50 states and two territories, they are simply too big to have a co-operative response like Australia’s.
Cluster Responses a part of the New Normal
In this context, we shouldn’t be laughing about “Giving a Vic the Flick”. We should be asking how we can help.
The Victorian cluster is a “real-live” test of our federal response to outbreaks. I am proud that a Queensland team is assisting with contact tracing in Victoria. Other state health teams are also assisting, as is the federal government. I am very hopeful they will lock this cluster down tight.
No doubt, there will also be lessons learnt, and in the co-operative effort that is National Cabinet, these can be applied to the next outbreak.
Because nothing is surer; there will be other clusters from time to time. As I have said previously, the trick is to keep them puddle-sized. Puddles are annoying but we can keep working around them. We don’t want them to spread any kind of wave.
Keep Doing Your COVID-safe Thing
This Victorian cluster is a reminder to us all to keep up the social distancing and handwashing. It does work. It is working.
Now to Contain the Financial Crisis
Queensland has had zero cases for over a week. Other states have done even better. All-in-all, we will never have a better time to start the “new normal”.
Even the Queensland Chief Health Officer said this week that “It is unlikely that we will ever beat this virus”.
We are going to live with this virus. Let’s start now.
We have already done a lot of the work in adapting our society to the pandemic. It is just finding the courage to rip off the last little band aid and open our borders to free commerce again.
Border Always Open to Many
When I argued for the borders to be re-opened in a previous newsletter, many constituents told me they liked them closed because it made them feel “safe”.
But the borders have never been really closed.
People have been crossing the border continually – and legally – throughout the lockdown, and in large numbers.
Truckies, Workers, Residents and Visitors
All trucks are waved through, border residents are waved across and people can come up and visit their old Mum on the Gold Coast to check she is okay and clean the gutters.
Essential workers in a range of businesses are waved through.
It is hard not to miss the caravans and backpackers on the Central Highlands. In a letter to a regional paper yesterday, a lady said she got talking to some international visitors who are travelling from Melbourne to Cairns in a camper van. They said no one had checked them yet. They had made it to Mackay! They would have completed a quarantine, but then they set off on their holiday.
But No Australian Holiday-Makers
So, it seems the only people the border is really closed to are other Australians who want to come to Queensland and spend their money on a winter holiday.
Most COVIDsafe Operators
Queensland was revealed this week as the state with the highest number of tourism operators compliant with the new COVID-safe protocols. They really are ready to operate in a “new normal”.
Qld Loses Eight Billion Dollars
In fact, many are desperate to resume operation. In four months of closure, the Queensland tourism industry has lost an estimated $8 billion.
Businesses have reached breaking point. Many have shut up shop for good. They say in Airlie Beach a third of businesses are closed, but their fixed costs continue. At what point do you decide to stop throwing your money down a bottomless well? No wonder some owners are simply locking the door and walking away.
Loss of Capacity – Loss of an Industry
What terrifies me is that it has taken Queensland virtually my entire lifetime to build this tourism capacity. You can only have the tourism industry that your capacity allows you.
You must have the infrastructure and the people to deliver a quality, final product. We are simply throwing it away. It will be very, very hard to rebuild it.
The Money Chase
For starters, the capital required will be hard to come by as we head into recession. The entire world will be chasing capital as it tries to dig its way out of the financial crisis created by COVID19.
Keeping the Kangaroo Flying
And then there is our aviation sector. If Australians lose that, we really will go backwards nationally.
With the practical outcome for Virgin still uncertain, Qantas announced 6,000 job losses this week – 20 per cent of its workforce.
Put simply, we should not be busy digging Australia and Queensland into a deeper hole. Banning Australian holidaymakers does exactly that. We must manage open state borders instead.
Premier Visits the West
Longreach and Barcaldine enjoyed a visit from the Premier and Tourism Minister this week, but our real fate depends on what they announce after National Cabinet today. Will they let others visit us too? Sunday seems to be the Premier’s favourite time for announcements, so I will have my “listening ears” on.
Assistance for Show Societies
Moving on to more practical matters. I was pleased to see the Federal Government this week announced a $36 million assistance package for agricultural show societies to ensure they can survive the impact of the pandemic.
These shows contribute $1 billion to the economy annually. They attract six million patrons a year and are staged largely by volunteers. Some 50,000 volunteers. We have all missed the Gregory shows this year but there is a lot of work in adapting their formats to COVID19-safe ways if they are to resume next year.
The Queensland Chamber of Agricultural Shows is now calling on the Queensland Government to step up and assist our shows in that work. So far, radio silence.
COVID-Safe State Elections
The Queensland Attorney General has said she is making progress on a COVID19-safe plan for the state elections on October 31, 2020. She has ruled out a full postal ballot, but has promised more pre-poll locations, longer pre-poll hours and more pre-polling days to ease the need for crowded polling booths.
I urge you to check your enrolment and, if you are a registered postal voter, check for that as well. Here is a handy link.
10,000 Go to the Footy
The Premier has announced that from tomorrow, 10,000 people will be allowed to go to the footy at The Gabba, Suncorp and Metricon Stadiums. Townsville will welcome 2,000 spectators to the Queensland Country Bank Stadium for its home game tomorrow.
Other Health News
The Australian has reported that Queensland has a backlog of 7,000 extra people waiting for elective surgery due to the COVID19 bans.
While these were necessary at the start of the pandemic to ensure we had the ICU beds needed, I am pleased to see that work has started to progress these surgeries again.
Each of these are people waiting for cataract surgery, joint replacements, hernia treatment, ear, nose and throat treatment and many other painful conditions. We absolutely must address this backlog with a sense of urgency.
Mobile BreastScreen Service Resumes
Following a temporary suspension of routine breast screening across the State, some BreastScreen Queensland services are starting to screen again.
The re-start varies across Gregory. If you had an appointment cancelled, your local service will contact you to schedule a new appointment. The service seems to be back in full on the western side of Gregory, but won’t resume in the Central Highlands until next month.
To make an appointment please call 13 20 50 or book online here.
Aus Post Community Grants Now Open
The 2020 Australia Post Community Grants are now open. Grants of up to $10,000 are available for local community organisations seeking to address mental health in their community.
You can read the grant guidelines and check on the eligibility of your community group and project here.
Happy and Safe Holidays
It is hard to believe, but school is out for the winter holidays today! It has been a very challenging time for many students and their families so celebrate these holidays with a little getaway, however humble. Our own backyard is beautiful and you will be welcomed warmly.
Enjoy a Qld Getaway
Almost half of Queenslanders are planning a winter escape within Queensland. Just remember to continue your COVID-safe routines and to travel safely too.
Police Will Be Active
From tomorrow until Friday July 17, 2020, you will notice an increased police presence on our highways, as well as RBTs and speed cameras.
Police will be enforcing the Fatal Five – fatigue, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, seat belt use and distraction. There are big penalties for phone use, so put it away until you pull over.
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If You Need Help
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.)
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.