Welcome back to parliament. Since the last time we met, the entire south-east corner, from Bundaberg to the border, has experienced flooding.

As Gregory sweltered through a dry heat-wave and a continuing drought, places in the south-east were receiving their total annual rainfall in a matter of not days, but hours!

Rain Bombs and High Tides

According to BOM, the rain “bomb” forms when a mass of cooler air moves up the east coast until it meets the warm, moist air above the Coral Sea. It pulls that moisture in and takes it south. This is why, by and large, FNQ and WQ was spared but the rain did affect NSW as well as Queensland.

Premier’s Flood Appeal

There was much discussion of the floods in parliament this week, with Ministers reporting the damage to the state’s infrastructure as well as to people’s homes and neighbourhoods. The Premier sponsored a Premier’s flood appeal, which we’ll need given she refused the Prime Minister’s funding.

Thanks Danny and Alliance

The Premier is hosting a function to kick off the appeal and I would like to give a shout-out to Alliance Airlines and Sheehan Events – Danny Sheehan of Longreach -for the wonderful prize they have donated. It will be auctioned to raise funds for flood victims.

The Ultimate Outback Visit

The prize is a private charter flight from Brisbane to Longreach, including transfers and meals and return, to attend Opera Queensland’s Festival of Outback Opera in Longreach. Included in the package is a visit to your choice of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame or the Qantas Founders Museum, a Thomson River Cruise and a VIP Function after the opera.

This is so generous of Danny, Alliance and all involved. It is very typical of the generosity of the people of Gregory. I have no doubt there will be keen bidding for this prize.

To Make a Donation

If you want to make a donation for Queensland flood vctims you can do so at any of these web pages: Givit, Red Cross, Lifeline, St Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army .

Strong “Queenslander” Response

From what I’ve seen and heard this week, these floods were completely different from 2011 and in many places much more severe. What was pleasing to see was the strong and effective response.

The reaction in NSW could not have been a bigger contrast. One of the things I do know is that General Sir Peter Cosgrove is right when he says that we have to stop calling in the army every time there is a disaster.

Empower the Locals

I don’t want to live in a “martial” society. I want to live in a civil society with strong civic organisations. Instead of calling on the ADF, we must empower locals to respond to disasters on home ground. They have the local knowledge. It is about giving them the capacity.

Queensland has been going down that road for more than 10 years now and it works.

Better Mental Health Outcomes, Too

 An overlooked benefit is that it actually improves the mental health outcomes of victims and their communities. The best thing you can give someone is the sense there is something they can do about their situation. After floods, that is cleaning.

The mud army concept is that locals help locals. It gets the work done in record time, overcomes the isolation of victims and leaves the whole community feeling stronger. “See, we can cope with that!”

Community groups cooked, manned evacuation centres and donated time. For instance, the Master Electricians Association coordinated their members to inspect and clear whole streets for power reconnection. Civic organisations are much more powerful – and can be better trained – than the army for these situations.

QRA Shows its Value Too

One of the best policies introduced after the Summer of Sorrow was the creation of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority. It has let us bring experts from key fields like power, transport and roads, water, health etc together to continue improving our disaster response. It is no longer about “opposing” climate change; it is about adapting to it.

Stop Building in Flood Plains

In this spirit, I was interested to read comments by Deputy Premier Steven Miles about the need to look at options like property buy-backs in flood-prone areas. And we must strengthen planning laws to stop developing on flood plains.

It was very pleasing to see the Grantham people who “moved up the hill” after 2011 stayed nice and dry this time.

IGEM Review

The Inspector-General of Emergency Service will now review our flood response to see if there are things we can learn, as each flood is different.

For me, the key thing for Queensland is to keep our strong local capacity. I worry that our number of SES volunteers have fallen and branches have closed. I encourage the minister to address the reasons this is happening. Not all of them are sinister. Many baby-boomers are “aging” out of the service. This is all the more reason to have SES cadet training for our teenagers.

Only in Queensland

Of course, we still have our own disaster here in Gregory with the La Nina failing to break the drought in the west. If you want to donate you can still do so through the Western Queensland Drought Appeal here.

This community appeal continues to do amazing work in supporting our drought-affected families and communities. I spoke about their work in a speech this week to a bill setting up a new office of the Queensland Small Business Commissioner.

Information Powers and A Big Stick

While I welcomed this move, I pointed out that for such an office to truly help small business, the Commissioner needs to be totally independent of politicians and bureaucrats.

It must have the powers to demand information from government departments. It must also be able to force departments and big business into mediation over disputes with small business. Sadly, I do not see those powers in this bill and so I wonder how effective it will be in going to bat for small business.

Western Housing Crisis

I also addressed the House during Tuesday night’s “Adjournment Debate” about the housing crisis in Western Queensland. I spoke about this last year as well, but the Western Queensland Alliance of Councils raised the issue again at their forum last week.

Their study last year showed a shortage of 1,500 houses across western Queensland but the situation is even worse. That figure does not reflect the additional investment needed to bring our existing housing stock up to standard.

Our measly $320

Western Queensland receives only one-fifth of the housing investment of South-East Queensland. This is not an illusion caused by a lower population.

Over the last three years to June 2020, in Greater Brisbane, the average value of approved residential building work - be that new build or renovation - was $2,675. In Western Queensland, it was a measly $320.

It creates a chronic shortage of housing that is now threatening our economic sustainability.

The Whale Shark in our Swimming Pool

One of the big changes in Western Queensland is that the Queensland government no longer takes responsibility for owning or maintaining its own employee housing. Increasingly, it chooses to rent from our tiny, tiny private rental market. It is like having a whale shark in a swimming pool!

Build New Government Housing

Why would any responsible government do this? Well, a responsible government would not. It would build new employee housing so we could recruit and retain doctors, nurses, police officers and teachers.

Instead, this government has run down our housing stocks in Western Queensland - both government employee housing and social housing.

Recruitment Issues leave Service Gaps

These are real issues which I am seeing on the ground. Our schools are struggling to fill teaching positions. Our hospital boards are in the same dilemma. Meanwhile our private employers are screaming out for workers they can’t hire because there is nowhere for them to live.

Time for some Action – or Action Plans

In his capacity as the Minister for Local Government, Deputy Premier Steven Miles attended the forum and announced $200,000 to help the WQAC develop housing action plans across 22 western shires.

You can read my speech here. Without sounding ungrateful, we need action as well as action plans.

Meanwhile $3,000 to buy an EV
One has to question the government’s priorities when this week saw the announcement of a $55 million government package to pay $3,000 subsidies to anyone buying an electric vehicle to the value of $58,000.

Count Down for Longreach Dialysis

Speaking of government priorities, I also raised the issue of renal dialysis services in Gregory again this week. You can read my speech here.

 Following years of campaigning, a renal dialysis unit is currently under construction at Longreach Hospital. The service should commence by mid-year.

 Given our housing shortage, I am anxious that we secure the necessary renal dialysis nursing staff promptly. It would be a terrible twist to finally have the dialysis chairs and not be able to take patients because of a lack of staff.

But Emerald Still Misses Out

Meanwhile, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the government continues to omit Emerald for this vital service while installing it at towns like Charters Towers and Ingham. As I told the House, I don’t begrudge them their dialysis services in any way, but they make the case for Emerald even stronger.

Despite Distance and Population

The Queensland Central Highlands has a population of 28,000 people in an area nearly the size of Tasmania.

 It is a minimum three-hour drive one way to Rockhampton Base Hospital, if there are no holdups on the road.

That is six hours driving, plus, let us say, five hours treatment. That makes each treatment day a 12-hour day. It cannot be done on a sustained basis two or three times a week. People do die.

Meanwhile, Charters Towers, with a population of 8,000 is about an hour and a half from Townsville. Ingham, is also about an hour and a half to Townsville and has a population of 4,375. I will continue my calls for this vital service to be provided to my Central Highlands constituents.

A Rowdy Run of Question Times

Question time was very rowdy all week and the underlying cause is the continuing - and public - argy bargy around multiple integrity issues emanating from both the public service and the Government.

The Mangocube Emails

This week saw the parliamentary committee for the CCC release the CCC report into the use of Minister Mark Bailey’s private email for ministerial business. This has been kept secret for four years and the Premier tried to brush it off as old news.

But the emails were an education. There was Steven Miles – he was Environment Minister then – warning that one day people are going to realise there has never been a mine site in Queensland rehabilitated.

Strategic Croppers aware of Poor Rehab Record

Actually, Deputy Premier, my constituents in the Golden Triangle are well aware of this. They are also well aware that it is the Palaszczuk Government which has actively promoted mining and gas exploration over their strategic cropping land. I am intensely aware that no project has been refused by the Palaszczuk Government on strategic cropping land grounds.

LNP Hit Lists

The emails showed Labor ministers and operatives discussing “hit lists” of suspected LNP “sympathisers” in the public service.

Union Instructions

They also showed Minister Bailey receiving instructions from union boss, the late Peter Simpson, on how to vote in Cabinet. Labor’s response seemed to be that this has been the situation for 130 years, between unions and Labor governments. Think carefully about that in the upcoming federal election.

Disturbing Four Corners

Far more distressing was Monday night’s Four Corners program on the Queensland Office of the Public Guardian and the Queensland Public Trustee.

You can read about it on the ABC website here and there is also an ABC email address if you have further information you wish to share with them. This is an extremely upsetting story.

Attorney-General’s Response

On Wednesday, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice gave a ministerial statement to parliament about the program. She did not deny the clients’ stories, but she told the House the program concerned damaging past practices under Queensland’s guardianship and administration system.

She stressed there is new leadership and told the House there would be an independent review of the three clients cases covered by Monday night’s Four Corners.

What about That Bill?

The Bill that I have received the most constituent enquiry about this week was not yet back for debate. That is the extension of the COVID19 health emergency powers.

The bill is called Public Health and Other Legislation (Extension of Expiring Provisions) Amendment Bill.

To Extend or Not?

I can’t tell you much more than this because the Palaszczuk Government completely controls this agenda. As an opposition MP, the first I will know is when it appears on the Notice paper for debate. I can confirm the Bill has a time limit of six months written into it, so it must be extended before the end of March or it will naturally extinguish.

HRC says Overhaul It
As part of the normal process of bringing it back to the House, the Bill is currently still before the parliamentary Health and Environment Committee. On Monday this week they held a public hearing at which the Queensland Human Rights Commissioner said the Bill needs updating to better preserve Queenslanders’ human rights and should be overhauled.

Report due March 25

The Committee is due to table that report next Friday, March 25, 2022, so I haven’t been able to see that report yet. Assuming it is tabled next Friday, this suggests the Cabinet would discuss it on Monday, March 28.

Cabinet to Decide

If they decide to extend it, it will have to come up for debate that same week. Parliament sits on March 29, 30 and 31, and then doesn’t sit again until May.

If the Cabinet does decide to extend the Bill, they can use their majority – Labor has 52 of the total of 93 seats – to make it happen. They don’t need support from any non-Labor MPs.

Thank You BMA and CQU

I want to thank the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) for their donation of thousands of dollars of welding equipment to CQU’s Emerald TAFE campus.

From 100 Apprentices

It will be used to train apprentices in welding and fabrication. One of the advantages of living in the Bowen Basin should be the ability for our young people to learn such skills.

CQU has been running this training as part of a work readiness program for two years now. In that time more than 100 apprentices have undertaken the training.

Free Dental Care – Rolleston, Springsure and Sapphire

Thanks also to the QCoal Foundation for sponsoring the RFDS Dental Service. If you live in Rolleston, Springsure or the Gemfields, you can receive free dental care when the RFDS visits your town.

It will be in Rolleston from March 15 to March 24, Springsure from March 29 to April 7 and Sapphire from April 21 to April 28. Call 1800 002 507 for an appointment.

Woolworths Junior Landcare Grants

These grants are for schools and kindies to undertake projects like creating or expanding vegetable or bush tucker gardens, or enhancing native wildlife habitats. The grants are $1,000 and you can find out more at this link.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading. That’s my lot for this week. 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.

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Kindest Regards,

Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory