Central Queensland has certainly been buzzing with activity in the last couple of weeks. Easter brought the start of our festivals, shows and special country race days, while the Premier brought her cabinet to Longreach and Beef Week has attracted both the Premier and the PM, along with record crowds in Rockhampton.
Qld Cabinet comes West
I think most people would have welcomed the flurry of announcements that accompanied the Longreach cabinet meeting. Funding was announced for the emergency repairs needed at the Isisford Weir. This is vital to maintaining a secure town water supply.
Keeping the Big Red Truck Going
There was also long-awaited funding for hospitality trade training based out of Longreach State High School. This money will upgrade the school’s kitchen and secure the future operations of the Big Red Truck which delivers hospitality training to students at five western high schools – Longreach, Barcaldine, Aramac, Winton and Blackall.
This is vital to the further expansion of our Outback Tourism industry and also provides our young school leavers with excellent employment prospects right here in the west.
Building Dinosaur Tourism
Tourism was a double winner with funding to be delivered across three years to develop a dinosaur tourism strategy for Outback Queensland. Dinosaurs already create a substantial “pull” factor, with visitors planning itineraries to include them as a “must see”.
There is plenty of scope to grow this segment of the market and Gregory’s Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum has been leading the way. They are taking dinosaurs out of the realm of “must see” and into the realm of “must do”, with visitors able to help dig for fossils. I believe that this ability to participate in real citizen science will help repeat visits grow and those visitors are likely to stay longer.
New Entry for Workers Heritage Centre
In Barcaldine, the Premier opened the new entry to the Australian Workers Heritage Centre. This has been a vital project to give the Centre main street frontage. The increased visibility should promote visitor numbers. As the nation’s only museum dedicated to the social and cultural history of the Australian workforce, the Workers Heritage Centre is an “anchor” attraction for visitors coming through Barcaldine. Unsurprisingly, it has also become a major employer within the town.
But Further Support Needed
The new entry way is just the first step. With 22 galleries set in over two hectares of gardens, further funding is required for both refurbishment of existing galleries and the addition of new galleries. Given Barcaldine’s special place in the history of the ALP, hopefully the Treasurer may have a funding announcement for the Centre in the upcoming budget.
Five Mill Divided 12 ways
Cluster fencing got a $5 million boost to be shared between the seven RAPAD shires and the Goondiwindi, Western Downs, Paroo, Murweh and Balonne Shires. The number of shires puts the allocated amount in perspective, but at least it will keep a forward momentum in the project.
There were a couple of disappointments during the visit.
A Long Wait for Renal Dialysis
Constituents and their family members who are having to live in Rockhampton and Mackay in order to receive renal dialysis were crushed that the dialysis chairs promised by the Palaszczuk Government last year won’t be treating patients in Longreach until the “second half” of 2022.
I share their disappointment. It may seem ungrateful to some, but in the years of fighting for this, I have had a constituent die waiting for easy access to renal dialysis. I also have constituents who have been “temporarily re-located” to Rockhampton and Mackay for years in order to receive this vital treatment – five years and counting in one case, three in two more. This is hardly temporary.
Longreach is classed as a district hospital and both Longreach and Emerald are slated to provide Level 3 health services. There would be very few, if any, Level 3 hospitals on the coast that do not offer renal dialysis. Time and again, as I have fought for this, we have watched gob-smacked as Labor health ministers gave the service to hospitals closer to major cities than we are.
I want to reassure those Gregory renal patients desperate to return to their western homes that I will continue to push for progress on the delivery of these dialysis chairs in Longreach. And I will most certainly be continuing to fight the good fight for Emerald Hospital to be able to deliver the service to my constituents on the Central Highlands.
All Hat, No Cattle
The inspection of the Longreach Saleyards undertaken by Premier Palaszczuk, her deputy Steven Miles, Treasurer Dick and Agriculture Minister Furner seemed to be “all hat, no cattle”, as the wry saying goes.
The talk was all about the planned major upgrade of the saleyards. We were told this would boost western beef exports, but the Palaszczuk government made no funding announcement to support it. Nor did the Premier, in her capacity as Minister for Trade, have any new trade deals to announce in regard to the export of western beef.
A Western Qld Livestock Exchange
The upgrade is being driven by business, not government. It is the AAM Investment Group who are undertaking the transformation of the saleyards. They intend to create a modern livestock services centre similar to their Gracemere operation.
Maybe in the June Budget
The Premier and the three ministers issued a three page, official, joint ministerial media release about the saleyards, but nowhere can I find a specific commitment or announced dollar amount. Perhaps all will be revealed in the June budget.
Still no Plan for the Longreach Pastoral College
The other notable disappointment was that Minister Furner did not take the opportunity to tell the western Queensland community what the future of the Longreach Pastoral College assets is to be.
Where was Your Local MP?
Thanks to the concerned constituents who have rung my offices to ask why I was not included in any of these proceedings. The short answer is easy: I wasn’t invited and wouldn’t expect to be. This was very much a Labor political and media event. I am an Opposition MP, even if I am the local member for Gregory.
Bipartisan Courtesy Long Gone
Once upon a time, courtesy would have dictated that I be at least notified, if not invited along, to some of the announcements and inspections. After all, I can assure you I have been fighting for funding for all of these projects for many years. Sadly, the vicious way party politics is played these days has seen these bipartisan courtesies fall away.
With two Exceptions
So, I would like to take the opportunity of especially thanking two ministers. Minister Craig Crawford - the Minister for Seniors and Disability Services and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – who contacted me to advise he would be meeting with some constituents.
He also made a special effort to meet with the Outback Independent Living Group to better understand the need for independent living accommodation in the west. I am sincerely grateful for this. The need is great and the chance for him to physically assess the possibilities was an unexpected one-off. I look forward to the opportunity of working with him to advance a solution.
There’s Power - and then there’s Power
Also, a shout out to Minister Mick De Brenni who kindly popped into the Gregory Electorate office to say hello.
You may be surprised to learn that state electorate offices are the “shopfronts” of the Queensland Parliament. The staff are employed by the Queensland Parliament, not by the MPs or the parties, although they do work closely to assist their local members in their duties. Electorate office staff help everyone and anyone who needs their assistance with state government services and issues.
So, when our Longreach electorate officer saw a man in an Ergon shirt coming to the office she was all braced to be told of a planned power outage somewhere in the electorate. To her surprise, it was Minister De Brenni coming to say G’Day. Thanks Mick. I sincerely hope you get that chance to bring the family west for a non-working visit.
One Strange Thought Bubble
It was difficult for the Premier and the Treasurer not to see the workforce shortages affecting small businesses in the west. Obviously, this is a state-wide problem in all the Queensland regions but we are feeling it keenly right across Gregory. Businesses are cutting back opening hours, investments and improvements are delayed and sometimes businesses are even closed down because they can’t get staff.
Grey Nomads Don’t Come to Work
As a solution, Treasurer Dick suggested that the federal government change the tax laws to encourage grey nomads to fill the workforce shortages.
The first problem with that is that grey nomads don’t come here to work. They are on drive holidays which mean they are short-stay travellers. In this way they differ from even backpackers.
A Training Hamster Wheel
Secondly, employers would have no ability to know the standard of their work or to train them on the job. It could be a potential nightmare of constantly training, training, training a new person every week, with no return and frustrated customers.
The real solution is twofold: training our own people and making it easier for people to move here in the first place.
Help Us Renew our Housing Stock
Government at both the state and federal level could do much to assist in the area of housing accommodation. If you look at our existing housing stock it is very affordable. But much of it needs renewal and updating. Providing grants that would allow first home buyers and mum and dad investors to do this job in their own towns would rapidly increase the “pull” factor. Attention could then be shifted to building new homes.
Help Country Kids Qualify and They Will Stay
The second part of the story is training and education. Vocational training is greatly underfunded in Gregory. This should be the source of our tradies, our hairdressers, our cooks and hospitality workers. We need this to take place here, in our towns. Too many of our young people are forced to move to the cities to get this training and then it becomes hard for them to come back. Meanwhile their families are having to fund living away from home expenses which city families do not face for the same level of training.
The story is the same in the professions. For our towns to flourish we need our surveyors and town planners, lawyers and accountants, teachers and allied health professionals like psychologists, physiotherapists, speech pathologists, and so on.
Real Financial Barriers for Rural Families
But country families face huge financial barriers when trying to support their children through university. The rural medical degree at James Cook University has proved that if you train country people in these professions and give them professional experience in the country, the majority spend their professional lives practicing in country towns. We should apply this approach across a gamut of necessary professions and make it easier for country kids to get those qualifications.
While we love our grey nomad visitors, they are not a workforce solution. They are a vital segment of our tourism market.
Bush Councils Call for Help
You may recall in my last newsletter, I wrote about the Auditor General’s report that our rural and remote councils are becoming increasing less financially viable. Anna Bligh’s solution of forced council amalgamations has cost untold millions and has not changed the situation at all.
Less Money – More Work
The real issue is that funding has decreased - while more and more responsibilities have been shifted onto local government. So, I was pleased to see RAPAD take the opportunity to raise the issue during the State Cabinet visit. As the CEO David Arnold said, rural and remote councils will never have the capacity to raise enough revenue simply through increasing rates.
Yet the current funding structures, under both the federal and state governments, seem designed to benefit the councils in major regional cities and the south-east corner.
Overhaul the Funding as a Priority
We need the Minister for Local Government, Deputy Premier Steven Miles, to focus on overhauling the funding structures. Too much funding seems to be assessed as a competitive grant system that pits shire against shire. This is glib and lazy. It is lazy because it puts all the expense of developing businesses cases for projects onto the Councils, with no guarantee, when all the work is done, that the project will be funded. It wastes time and money in a constant churn.
We also need the Deputy Premier to stop taking cheap shots at the federal government and work with the relevant federal ministers to educate them about the special circumstances and challenges faced by rural and remote councils in a state as big as Queensland.
As the costs of snap border closures have become more obvious, the Queensland Government has finally put in place a series of responses that can be used when there are outbreaks of COVID19 infection in other states. Hopefully, closing the Queensland border will now be a last resort, but be reassured - the option is still there if needed.
Be Aware of “Exposure Venues”
The Chief Health Officer will now declare COVID19 “Exposure Venues” wherever they are identified in Australia. She will then issue health directions to apply to any individual entering (or already in) Queensland who has visited an Exposure Venue during the prescribed danger period.
It will be every traveller’s responsibility to keep up-to-date with the list of venues. This applies to both Queenslanders and visitors. You can read more about the system here.
Current Quarantine Order re NSW
The new system is already getting a real-world testing with the two cases of community transmission in NSW this week. You can see the current list of declared “Exposure Venues” here.
From 1 AM this morning (Friday 7 May, 2021) anyone entering Queensland – including Queensland residents – who has been to one of the venues listed during the prescribed danger period must complete 14 days government hotel quarantine at their own expense.
If this affects you or someone you know, you should isolate at home, get tested and call 13 HEALTH to start the process of entering quarantine.
Anyone who has visited Greater Sydney since April 27 should watch for symptoms. If you develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate at home and get tested as soon as possible. Call 13 HEALTH for further advice.
Reconsider NSW Travel
The Chief Health Officer has also asked that anyone planning travel to NSW reconsider those travel plans. This is because the situation is still unfolding and she cannot rule out further Exposure Venues being declared, a hotspot declaration or even a total border closure.
New Zealand has also put a 48 hour pause on all flights from NSW to New Zealand.
Keep Up The COVID Drill
This latest community outbreak is a good reminder of how sneaky this virus is. We never know where it will pop up next – only that it undoubtedly will.
We never know who could be carrying it, either.
So, social distancing and hand washing are still very necessary.
Check In is Vital for Contact Tracers
In the NSW outbreak, the gentleman concerned did everything right – including checking in where venues, shops and businesses had check in requirements. Unfortunately, when the contact tracers received the check in registers the number of sign ins was way below the number of patrons and customers who had visited those sites. This makes their job much harder.
And some of those people could be unwittingly spreading the outbreak to their family and friends.
So, when you enter a venue, shop or business that asks you to check in, please do so. It is in case Queensland’s contact tracers need the list.
QR Check-in App Now Mandatory
Remember, since May 1 the Qld QR Check In App has been made compulsory for all hospitality businesses in Queensland. Since May 1, you must use this QR code app to check in patrons.
Businesses need to register to use the app. You can do that here .
All of us, as potential customers, need to download the app to our phone, which you can do for free from the Apple App store or Google Play.
Many businesses will also maintain a sign-in sheet for those who do not have a smart phone with them – or at all.
Visitor Restrictions from May 30
After May 30, people will only be able to visit Queensland hospitals, aged care centres, nursing homes, disability accommodation and prisons if they have an up-to-date flu vaccination.
Will the COVID Jab affect my Flu Jab?
If you are also having a COVID vaccination, the advice is to have them separately and leave two weeks between the vaccinations. You can read more advice here.
Who can get COVID vaccine now?
With May underway, all over 50’s are now eligible to receive an Astra Zeneca COVID19 vaccination.
For people in the Central Highlands, vaccinations will be available from May 3 through Commonwealth and State vaccination clinics. From May 17, they will become available through participating GPs. You can find out more here. Our participating GP Clinic is the Emerald Medical Group at the GP SuperClinic, PH 4986 7400.
In the Central West, the mobile vaccination clinics are open to everyone over the age of 18. You can click here to find out more.
Congratulations to Our Aspiring Teachers
I sincerely congratulate Dani Challacombe and Vincent Penberthy of Emerald State High School on being awarded an Aspiring Teacher Grant from the Queensland Government.
Well done! I hope you enjoy your studies and bring your talents back to Gregory. We need your qualifications and abilities.
Grants, Scholarships and Community Notices
Remember you can find a list of grants and a list of scholarships on my website at Lachlanmillarmp.com. There is also a community noticeboard. If you have a notice you would like put up, simply email the details and your contact to [email protected] . We will be happy to help you spread the word.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading. I am off to Parliament again next week and will report back after the sitting.
Meanwhile, 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 Western Queensland
Deputy Chair – Queensland Parliamentary Transport and Resources Committee