I’m sorry this is a week overdue, but I had to travel straight from parliament to attend the Western Queensland Alliance of Councils in Richmond. I’ll try and give you double the value this week. First to last week’s sitting.
Don’t Pepsi Coke
There’s an old saw in the advertising game that you don’t waste your air-time promoting the opposition. You will never hear Coke mention Pepsi. Even Bunnings only offers a price match. It never says whose prices it is matching.
The Labor Government had such a bad Sitting last week that Treasurer Dick used the time set aside for MPs to speak on “Matters of Public Interest” to give the House a five minute diatribe the Hansard recorder has titled simply “The Leader of the Opposition, Performance”. Oh dear.
What was the burr under his saddle? Two documents and Question Time – for three days in a row.
Tabled in parliament last week were a CCC report into a recruitment scandal in the Queensland Police and, quite separately, an 18 page submission to the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee from the Clerk of the Parliament on corruption threats in Queensland.
When Public Servants Obey Political Thought Bubbles
Back in 2015, the Palaszczuk Government announced its commitment to gender equity through quotas for all government appointed boards and committees. There must be equal numbers of boys and girls, be it hospitals or coal mine safety.
Equality of Opportunity does not mean Equal Outcomes
With the noblest of intentions, this policy is pulling the wrong rein. As Queenslanders, we deserve equality of opportunity. For instance, we must have the same opportunity to apply for any job.
Merit is Key
But this doesn’t mean we have the same actual chances of getting the job. Qualifications, talents, capacity, abilities, experience, even personal presentation may all play a part in who gets the job.
If merit no longer determines appointments, there will be real-world consequences.
A Recruitment Process
As part of normal recruitment, applicants to attend the Queensland Police Academy are assessed against physical, cognitive and psychological requirements.
Are you physically fit for the job? Are you bright enough to do the job? Are you psychologically fit for – and suited to - the job?
After all, these are public servants we trust so much they are legally allowed to go armed in public. They must enter people’s lives and homes at times of great stress and they will have to make rapid decisions about the best way to manage all kinds of tough situations. We want the best.
Test Results Ignored for Gender
The CCC’s Operation Arista found that the Queensland Police Service recruitment section believed it had to meet a 50 per cent gender quota for male/female recruitment.
Gender Not Merit
To meet Labor’s gender quotas, QPS recruiters had to discriminate against male applicants who were high scorers, physically, cognitively and psychologically. They were told they did not make the grade.
They also had to discriminate in favour of female applicants. This meant female candidates were accepted despite failing either physical, cognitive or psychological requirements.
How Did This Happen?
In May 2015, then Police Commissioner Ian Stewart asked that strategies be put in place to select “not less than 50 percent female recruits”. At the time women made up 26 percent of the sworn officers in the Service.
Normally, about 70 to 80 percent of police applicants are male. The gender quota meant that 50 per cent of recruits would need to be sourced from the 20 per cent of applicants who were female.
How Long Was This Happening?
The CCC examined the period between December, 2015 to October, 2018. The report estimates the discrimination affected approximately 200 male applicants who should have been accepted.
I hope there is not a long effect on the Queensland Police Service. Commissioner Carroll’s comments have been reassuring in that regard.
She has stressed all the female recruits met the requirements before graduating from the academy and entering the Service. She also stressed the practice has ceased.
What Action Will Be Taken By the CCC?
The CCC says no action will be taken against the Minister or the senior management of the QPS because the situation resulted from a “miscommunication” of a gender target that was supposed to be aspirational.
The CCC said they had found evidence that the Police Minister was frequently misled in briefing notes.
However, at the CCC’s direction, the QPS has suspended two staff as part of an internal disciplinary process. A third has left the QPS.
The episode reminds us why we need public servants who are frank and fearless in their advice to their political masters for our system of administration to work.
Why We Need an Effective CCC
It was also a reminder of the importance of an anti-corruption body like the CCC.
Another reminder last week was a submission from the Clerk of the Parliament to a review of the CCC by the parliamentary oversight committee.
Mr Laurie, who has been Clerk of the Queensland Parliament for 18 years, warned that many of the safeguards against corruption and misconduct which existed both before - and after - the Fitzgerald Inquiry have now been “fatally weakened”.
Impact of Digital Media
The Fitzgerald Inquiry was famously sparked by reporting by the Courier Mail and the ABC.
Mr Laurie highlights the unlikeliness of that happening today. He makes the connection between the rise of digital media and the loss of journalism.
Where are the Watchdogs?
Digital media and social media together have gutted the financial resources of commercial mainstream media. As a consequence, we no longer see old-school investigative reporting, especially at a state level.
Much of our “news” seems to focus on celebrities and sport. Too often, so-called news reports are just rehashed media releases straight from a minister’s office with no questions asked.
Public Broadcaster Not Filling the Hole
At the same time, as Mr Laurie says, the ABC’s decision to scrap state-based editions of the “7.30 Report” means the public broadcaster’s TV coverage of state politics has also largely vanished.
Politically Aligned Stakeholder Advocates
He also noted that professional organisations and stakeholder groups could themselves become politically biased. I do think this is a very real issue and it affects policy development and public life across multiple industries and issues.
While these losses increase the need for the CCC to exist, Mr Laurie questioned the “policy of devolution”. This is when the CCC refers a complaint back to the body being complained about, so that they can investigate the complaint themselves - under CCC supervision.
Devolution Shows Lack of Funding
To my mind, this is a matter of resources. The policy of “devolution” no doubt comes with savings, but it also comes with obvious dangers.
Mr Laurie wrote that “Over the past decade there have been investigations of police misconduct referred back to the Queensland Police Service that would make people that recall the pre-Fitzgerald era scratch their heads.”
Mr Laurie gave evidence in person to the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee last Friday, as part of a normal review of the CCC’s operations.
Question Time – Expert Dodging and Weaving
A normal sitting week brings three question times, one each morning. Labor MPs ask their Ministers “Dorothy Dixers” – pre-arranged, friendly questions that allow the Ministers to talk about their triumphs and bag the Opposition. This way at least half an hour is just free kicks for the Government.
The Dorothy Dixers alternate with real questions from the Opposition MPs and other cross-bench MPs. This is the uncomfortable half-hour when you’ll see Ministers dodging and weaving and trying to use up their answer time without giving any answer.
Two Different Sets of Priorities
This week Labor used their Dorothy Dixers to imply the LNP MPs snubbed Beef Week in Rockhampton, while apparently their Premier received a welcome fit for a princess.
Childish baiting at best - and I suspect they knew it. Mike O’Connor wrote about it in the Courier Mail with wonderful insight about the game they were playing.
Raising the Queensland Health Train Wreck
Sadly for Labor, the LNP weren’t biting. Since the last Sitting, information had come to us that needed public airing.
In the previous sitting of parliament, the LNP had asked questions about the problems people were experiencing with Queensland Health. Hundreds of Queenslanders have been left waiting on stretchers in ambulances outside hospitals unable to get a bed.
As Shadow Minister Ros Bates said, “This is your mother having a heart attack, your child having an asthma attack or your grandmother breaking a hip.”
Speaking Up for Individuals
This had opened the proverbial floodgates. In the following days, the Opposition was contacted by both patients and health workers with distressing stories.
So, we dedicated last week’s sitting to raising as many of those complaints as we could during Question Time, every day.
Here is a brief summary
Patricia from Mudgeeraba has now waited in agonising pain for two months more than clinically recommended for surgery on her broken hips.
Catherine from the Redlands has told the Opposition her father, terminally ill with leukaemia, was forced to wait more than 12 hours at the Redland Hospital to have his cannula replaced. Distressed and in severe pain, Catherine’s father died later that week.
A Queensland Ambulance Service insider told the Opposition last week that there was a death in southern Brisbane, where a family member made multiple calls over the period of an hour, before a single office supervisor showed up with no defibrillator due to an equipment shortage. The family member later died.
Another QAS insider has told of a patient with life-threatening sepsis on the Gold Coast who waited two hours for an ambulance and died 20 minutes after arrival at the Gold Coast University Hospital.
A QAS whistle-blower has told the Opposition of a paramedic being despatched on foot to a case in bayside Brisbane because a vehicle was not available at the time.
Carol from Ipswich contacted the Opposition to say that she was recently taken to Ipswich Hospital. Carol waited for five hours in a hallway with two paramedics who could not leave to attend to other sick and injured Queenslanders.
Twelve-year-old Abby from Buderim has suffered in pain and has been restricted to crutches for the last eight months while waiting for an initial orthopaedic appointment at Sunshine Coast University Hospital. Abby is a category 2 priority which should be treated within 90 days.
Post - Parliament Miracle
Miraculously, after the LNP raised her case in Parliament, she was contacted for an appointment.
On it went. I’m sure you get the picture. We also asked about the continuing stream of major hospitals declaring Code Yellow internal emergencies and the fact that every single South-East Queensland hospital escalated to level 3 extreme delays overnight on Monday.
Out of Order
Apparently, the Labor Government didn’t like this discussion in the “People’s House”.
They tried multiple times to have the questions ruled out of order, including implying that the Opposition was making up the complaints. The questions should be ruled “out of order” unless the complainants could be “authenticated”, they demanded of the Speaker.
Real People Come to Parliament!
So, on Thursday, David Crisafulli brought two of the affected Queenslanders into Parliament House to talk to the media. He called on the Premier to apologise. She didn’t.
He also demanded a recognition that the system is broken and needs to be fixed urgently.
This is an ongoing crisis and the Minister has previously said the problem isn’t money, its culture. It’s sick people going to their hospital instead of their GP.
This is not even worth discussing. All I can think is its lucky we are not having to cope with an outbreak of COVID19 as the system would really struggle.
The $100 Million Back-Flip
Despite all the previous excuses, last week the Health Minister announced in Parliament a $100 million funding package to address the problem.
This will create – wait for it – 65 extra beds in some of Queensland’s busiest hospitals, including funding for “winter” beds.
$3 Billion Problem
But the problem is bigger than 65 beds.
As the Australian Medical Association of Queensland said, $100 million is a “small step towards fixing a $3 billion problem.”
Nothing Outside SEQ
When the Shadow Health Minister inspected Rockhampton Base Hospital this week, it was also in Code Yellow with ramping.
Yet we were snubbed for the bed funding. The $100 million backflip will not provide a single bed outside the south-east corner.
Show Cause or Be Sacked
As if there weren’t enough issues on her plate, this week the Health Minister demanded the board of the North West Health and Hospital Service show cause why they shouldn’t be sacked for financial mismanagement and an administrator appointed.
Interestingly, the last Auditor General’s report showed that 11 of our 16 hospital boards ran over budget in the last financial year. The total over-run was $82 million. Divide that by 11 and you get about $7.5 million. The NWHHS was over budget by $8 million.
To me, this does not show financial mismanagement. It shows chronic underfunding. Free public hospitals aren’t supposed to make a profit. They are supposed to provide a service, and the Palaszczuk Government decides what budget to give them to provide that service.
Automatic Compo for Occupational PTSD
I had reason to speak about hospital beds again during the workers compensation bill which passed the house this week.
The Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation bill will create a special category of workers’ compensation for first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of doing their duties.
First Responders Only
The jobs covered will include police, ambulance, child safety, youth justice and corrective service officers. In addition, fire service officers, members of the SES, and members of rural fire brigades, including fire wardens and volunteer firefighters, will also be included in this bill. Last but not least, the changes will cover doctors and nurses working in emergency and trauma care, acute care, critical care and high-dependency care.
Coal Mine Rescue Left Out
While I am delighted to see the SES and rural firies included, the glaring omission from this list are coal mine rescue workers. These teams re-enter mines in hazardous circumstances, sometime with potentially fatal risk to themselves. They do it to rescue or recover their dead and injured workmates. These are people they know. Exposure to trauma must be a real risk.
Good First Step
I commend the Government on this step to making workers’ compensation easier for these first responders to obtain. But obtaining workers’ compensation is only one aspect of the struggle faced by victims of occupational PTSD.
What About the Rehabilitation Part?
As I told the House, many will not even obtain a diagnosis until they suffer a crisis such as a mental breakdown, nervous collapse or even suicide attempt.
This is long before they are thinking of a workers compensation claim. What do you do if your loved one suffers such a crisis? You would like to think they could receive inpatient care and suicide watch.
Shortage of CQ Beds
There are only 23 dedicated adult mental health beds for all of Central Queensland—the cities of Rockhampton, Gladstone, all the hinterland towns and the entire population west of the Great Divide, all the way to the borders with the Northern Territory and South Australia.
To get an inpatient place in Central Queensland, patients suffering a crisis due to occupational PTSD will be ‘competing’ in a triage system against patients suffering from a crisis due to every other kind of mental health issue.
Zero Rehab Places
Many PTSD sufferers also self-medicate before they even realise they have a problem. Alcohol and drug addictions can result and these also need to be addressed. Could you get a place in residential rehabilitation?
Except for Mount Isa, there are zero residential rehabilitation places west of the coast. That is not west of the Great Divide; that is west of the coastal cities like Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Mackay.
That number again is “Zero”
For people in the Central Highlands, the Central West and South West, that is zero.
So, the 19 beds in Rockhampton and the 10 in Mackay are supposed to fulfil the needs of the entire population of Central Queensland - from Rockhampton, Mackay and Gladstone to the borders, including beds for our Closing the Gap goals.
If we want to help victims of occupational PTSD, we must get real about access to care and assistance. It is not care if you can’t access it.
Draft VAD Laws Tabled
The Queensland Law Reform Commission report – and draft legislation - on Voluntary Assisted Dying have now been tabled. You can read it here.
The Minister has said the draft laws will go through the normal committee process of review. Given the budget sitting next month and estimates sittings after that, it is unlikely that the laws will be voted on until September or October.
Eligibility for VAD
The Queensland Law Reform Commission has recommended that to be eligible to access voluntary assisted dying in Queensland, a person must be at least 18 years of age and be an Australian citizen or permanent resident who has resided in Queensland for at least a year.
Further, they must have an eligible condition that is advanced and progressive and expected to cause death within 12 months – as assessed by two doctors.
Importantly, the person must be acting voluntarily, without coercion, and have the capacity to make a decision around end of life choices.
I will be having a detailed look at the draft laws and will write to you about my views closer to the parliamentary vote.
Consultation on Queensland’s Resources Industry
This week the Minister announced that submissions had opened into a new Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan. However it would appear from the on-line forum this announcement was a bit tardy and some people had already been told about the consultation.
The proposed plan will govern the future of Queensland’s resources economy. The review will cover all resources: coal, gas, petroleum, metals and minerals. The findings are to form the basis of the plan which will be released later this year.
Click here to read more and have your say. You can complete an online survey or lodge a submission. You can also participate in an online forum.
Future Drought Fund Programs Commence
The federal and state governments made a joint announcement of funding to build drought resilience in Queensland this week.
I am very excited to see this program start. We have been waiting a long time in Queensland.
A Potted History of Drought Policy
In 2008, a national review of drought policies and preparedness recognised that the way that drought support was designed was no longer appropriate in the face of climate change.
Scientists and ministers agreed that climate change means more of Australia will face drought, more often, and more severely. All Australian jurisdictions – federal, state and territory – agreed the government approach needed to change too.
Five Year Pause Until
In May 2013, all primary industries ministers signed up to the Intergovernmental Agreement on National Drought Reform (IGA). The IGA aimed to shift government policy from reactive assistance to assistance which encourages preparation and risk management.
This approach emphasised things like the national farm deposits scheme, access to rural financial counselling, improving seasonal weather forecasting.
Two New “Future Drought” Programs in Qld
Finally we see some progress with two new future drought resilience programs. Both will roll out from 2021 to June 2022.
Regional Drought Planning
The $9.85 million Regional Drought Resilience Planning program will provide funding to support regional organisations, councils, communities and farmers to identify and develop ways to manage drought and minimise its impacts across agriculture and allied industries.
I am particularly pleased to see communities and councils included in this planning process. It is also good that it is allowing plans to be made for different geographical regions, as drought experience varies by location as well as industry type.
Individual Farm Drought Planning
The $16 million Farm Business Resilience program goes to the individual level. Farmers and graziers will get funding for learning and development to help them build their knowledge and skills in natural resource management and personal and social resilience in the face of drought.
It will also support farm business planning and access to expert, one-on-one advice.
A Farm Management Grants Program will provide a rebate of 50 per cent to a maximum of $2,500 towards the cost of developing a Farm Business Resilience Plan for their property.
Emergency Water Infrastructure Funds Released
Yesterday it was announced that Queensland has signed on to the federal government’s On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme. There has been a lot of argy-bargy about this and I know Gregory constituents who are waiting on the funding.
They will be especially pleased to hear that the federal government is allocating $1.7 million to pay rebates to the 398 Queensland farmers who were eligible for the rebate but were unable to get the funds when the scheme became over-subscribed.
A further $1.9 million, to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Queensland Government, will be provided to new applicants to the scheme. You can see the state guidelines for new applicants by clicking here.
Eligible projects include water infrastructure for livestock, dam de-silting and drilling of new bores for properties with permanent horticulture tree crops.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading.
If I can help in any way, 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