Today, the Chief Health Officer told Queenslanders, “We are all of us going to end up being infected with COVID.”
She went on to say that getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your family. She could have added – and your community and your local hospital.
Qld has a Vaccination Problem
I have written about this many times and I am pleased to see that the state government is finally becoming aware that vaccine hesitancy is a problem for Queensland.
Listening to the three Question Times in parliament this week made it very clear that a big part of that problem is the fragility of our hospital system. Ramping continues to be a major issue. We continue to have overcrowded emergency departments and multiple large hospitals experiencing frequent code yellows. Imagine if you add huge numbers of COVID cases.
Plenty of Vax – And No Other Cure
Make no mistake, thinking we have a choice about COVID is false thinking. But we shouldn’t panic. We should get vaccinated. We are in a privileged position with a choice of “brands” and plenty of supply. So, if you have been waiting – now is the time to act.
Elders Show Us How
While we are still among Australia’s slowest to vaccinate, the health minister said today that Queensland has now reached 80 per cent double vaccinated for our over 70 age group. First doses now sit at 71.35 per cent.
I must point out that the Premier has still not committed to living with COVID, nor has the government shared a plan for opening our borders. I think this is a mistake because having a date or series of dates would allow people to plan ahead.
Living Under Siege
Living from week to week is starting to have a serious impact on people’s well-being, which I am seeing reflected across the board through my constituent meetings and phone calls. People want to plan their Christmas gatherings. People need a summer holiday break and businesses – large and small - need to be able to make secure plans.
The impracticality of continuing border closures is real. We are wasting police time in enforcing the closures. It takes police away from their real work. This is reflected in our terrible road toll – just to name one issue. Then there are all the other social and mental problems.
Border Pause Doubles Backlogs
The Premier’s so-called border “pause” in August has created a huge backlog of applications for standard border entry passes. These are the ones that come with two week’s hotel quarantine. And you can still only return to Queensland by air.
Refugee Camps in Australia
We now have shameful refugee camps of marooned Queenslanders, as a recent story of one such gathering at Murwillumbah Show Grounds highlighted.
Last time I wrote, I asked why we weren’t trialling home quarantine instead. This would solve a lot of problems for many people. It would assist those people with medical conditions, but it would also assist working families who can’t afford the huge fees of $3,000 and $5,000.
Now we have Half a Home Quarantine Trial
Since then, the government has announced a home quarantine trial. It was to include 1,000 people, but they have only been able fill less than a half of the places. The strict eligibility requirements are probably to blame.
The requirement to live in certain South East Queensland shires means that no trial participants are from Gregory.
I have constituents who are marooned and who live in remotely distanced houses that I would love to see included in such a trial, but such a logical thought seems to be beyond the capacity of the system.
The Fake Agricultural Pass
In a similar vein, I spoke in parliament this week about the frustrations of the class exemptions for agribusiness and Specialist and Essential workers. These are called the Z pass and the S pass.
I bluntly said the Z Pass is a fake. The whole system seems designed for agricultural workers coming into Queensland from other states. Well, we recently had a case where such a worker was needed to carry out ultrasound scanning for spring bull sales in Gregory. He was not approved for entry. So, it fails for entry.
What About the Other Way?
Even worse, it has no capacity for considering agribusinesses who need to go into NSW or Victoria and return home when their work is done. Be that contract harvesting or spring lambing. The Z Pass only works if they stay within the border zone.
Doesn’t Cover Contract Harvesters
Gregory’s contract harvesters are unable to work on the first good harvest for years. They can leave to go to areas like Narrabri or Walgett or Moree. But they cannot come home on a Z Pass because they have left the border zone, even though their destination is unlikely to have been a COVID hotspot.
They can’t return on a standard entry pass because they can’t return by air. They need to bring their harvest machinery back home with them.
Doesn’t Help With Drought Agisted Flocks
The western part of Gregory has been drought-declared since 2013 and 2014. Many of our agribusinesses have their core breeding herds on agistment in NSW. As I told the House, it is spring lambing and they need to check on their flocks and perform essential husbandry tasks. They cannot do this on a Z Pass and come back; not if they leave the border zone.
Define Essential and Specialist Work
So what about an S Pass? This is meant to cover work that is either essential and/or specialist. In terms of managing the lambing season, the impact of drought and COVID means that NSW are using their pastoral workers themselves. There is a labour shortage.
Again, the standard pass requires a return by air when they need to transport vehicles and equipment. The S Pass should let them take their essential vehicles and equipment, but do they pass the standard of work skill required?
Your Application Has Expired
The process for approving an S Pass is either way too complex or sets the bar too high. Gregory has a case that undeniably qualifies, but the workers are on their fourth application.
Applications expire after two weeks, and keep timing out waiting for processing – delaying the applicant a fortnight at a time. This business’s third application had actually been ticked off and required just one more bureaucrat’s signature - and it timed out before they signed.
You can read my speech here. We are now coming up to 20 months of COVID and we still don’t have systems in place that are fit for purpose. No wonder people feel desperate.
New Laws for Tenants and Landlords
This week saw Parliament debate and pass the Housing Amendment Legislation. This is the Bill that boosted tenants’ rights by taking rights off landlords. Both tenants and landlords need to be aware of the changes.
Sets Standards for Rental Accommodation
There are some good aspects to the Bill. The laws enforce minimum standards for the basic safety, security and maintenance and functionality of rental properties. Landlords can be fined $6,850 if they don’t comply with a repair and maintenance order. The fine rises every week that the work is left undone.
Prescribed Laws for Evictions
In the original proposals, tenants were going to have more stability. This was to be achieved by outlawing “without grounds” evictions, even for fixed term contracts. This would have meant owners may never be able to take possession back from a tenant, even when a contract reached the agreed expiry date.
Not Playing !
There was an outcry that many owners would simply exit the rental market if these were to be the rules.
Given that 90 percent of Queensland rental housing is offered by private owners and over a third of Queensland households rent, this would have been disastrous.
Minister Backs Down
As the Minister, herself, told Parliament, “Not recognising the end of a fixed-term tenancy would have the legal effect of depriving the owner of the right to possess the property again and giving it to the renter, …without compensation for the deprivation (of the owner)”.
Still Applies to Periodic Leases
But be warned, the reprieve only applies to fixed term rental contracts where there is an agreed start and end date. It does not apply where there is no agreed end date.
A Fixed term Can Become Periodic
It is common in Queensland for new tenants to commence on a fixed term contract, which then just continues on when the end date is passed without any problems.
Under law, such a contract is then seen as a periodic agreement. These new rental laws make it harder for an owner to end a periodic lease and regain control of the property.
Can’t Say No To Pets
Property owners have also been stripped of their rights to simply refuse to allow tenants to have pets in their rental accommodation.
Landlords can only say no if the property is unsuitable due to a lack of space or fencing, if there is an unacceptable health and safety risk incurred or if keeping pets in the property is against bylaws.
But They Can Ask for Cleaning and Compo
And the owner can place conditions on pet ownership – such as that the pet must be kept outside. Also, any damage caused by pets is recognised as additional to normal “wear and tear”. Owners will be able to require special cleaning and fumigating at the end of the lease.
QCAT To Have Final Say
However, tenants will be able to take owners to the Residential Tenancies Authority or QCAT if they believe the property owner has refused their pet request unfairly.
That will involve owners in a lot of anxiety, and possibly legal expense.
No Fun for Amateurs
Most “landlords” in Queensland are not professionals. They are doctors and nurses, they are policemen and teachers and they are small businesses. It would not be surprising to see many choose to remove fencing, rather than be put on the spot over pets.
That is sad because it will make rental households less safe for the occupants – including those with children. This is what happens when we prescribe by law, rather than allow for human to human negotiation.
What Rental Market?
I did not spend my own speech listing all the changes, as they were covered at length by other speakers. Instead, I spoke about how the debate about tenant rights highlighted the fact the Palaszczuk government is completely oblivious to the housing situation in western Queensland – or doesn’t care.
Rearranging the Deck Chairs
For western Queenslanders, having a noble debate about people’s rights to keep pets in rental houses is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Our rental markets are so tiny, that taking rights away from our few private landlords might just snuff out the market altogether in some Gregory towns.
Gazumped by the Government
I told the story of a young couple who were recently gazumped by the Queensland government. They had their private rental lease terminated and had to vacate the home to make way for a state government employee. They had been paying $400 a week. The state government offered $680 a week! This is in Longreach.
Government Bigger than the Market
In some Gregory communities, when you combine the state government employee housing requirement with state government social housing for our disadvantaged people, that state government portfolio is far larger than the private rental market. Movements in the state government portfolio have ripple effects.
Selling Down the Regions
And there has been movement. The state government has been quietly selling out of its holdings for many years now.
This means it has to find that employee housing from the tiny rental market where it becomes the “gold-plated” tenant. It can throw its weight around – and it does.
The Western Queensland Alliance of Councils recently released the first region-wide, housing market study covering 22 council areas in Western Queensland. It found the area – which covers 60 per cent of Queensland – receives a fifth of the money invested in housing in the South East corner.
$2,675 Versus $320
In the three years to June 2020, approved residential building work averaged $2,675 per head in SEQ. In western Queensland it was $320. No wonder we have a dire housing problem which acts as a choke on the expansion of local workforces.
The Bill that we debated and passed this week will only make things worse. You can read my speech here.
Putting WQ Back in the Picture
The Palaszczuk Government has a document they call the Queensland Housing Strategy 2017 – 2027. It should contain funding to re-build the regional portfolio of state government employee housing as “new-builds”. We also need our existing social housing brought up to standard and expanded with “new-builds”.
Finally, the strategy should also address independent living for our disabled adults and for seniors.
Invest in Seniors Housing by Investing in their Homes
I know so many wonderful Gregory seniors who live happily and frugally in their own homes. But with each passing year it becomes harder for many of them to fund the necessary maintenance in our harsh climate.
Small government renovation grants for regional seniors would be an efficient way to invest in seniors housing in a state as big as Queensland. It would help our older householders replace their electricity power board, or repair the roof or paint the walls. If disrepair makes them homeless, where do they go then?
Encourage Renovation of Existing Houses
Every COVID housing grant was irrelevant to most Gregory towns because they were not reflecting our property values.
The Queensland Housing Strategy should provide our private employers, our young couples and our mums and dads with an incentive to rescue some of our old housing stock, renovate it and offer it into the private rental market. This would rescue our existing housing and boost our rental market. (Whether or not they fence the yard is up to them!)
Climate Summit and Energy Plans
With the issue of the Glasgow Climate Summit dominating media concerns at the moment, I was pleased to have the opportunity to raise the lack of a transition plan for Queensland’s electricity sector.
Profit Drops 88% in 12 Months
The Queensland Auditor General has highlighted a $1.5 billion – or 88 percent – profit decrease in a 12 month period for Queensland’s energy entities. This was largely due to “negative price events”. What’s that?
Selling Queensland Power at A Loss
The increase in solar generation in the middle of the day has meant that occasionally the supply of electricity is so much greater than the demand that generators like CS Energy, Stanwell and CleanCo are literally paying the market to take it.
Not selling at a loss; paying the customer to take it.
Surely, we can do better and use this power to support the growth of industry in Queensland? It is the Queensland Government who owns this industry. It needs to show us a plan or the losses will just keep climbing.
Prices Fixed and Not By Qld
The Auditor General’s report also states that the Australian Energy Regulator has decided what the maximum allowed revenues for Energy Queensland's distribution businesses - Energex and Ergon- will be for the next five years. This will reduce the revenues for Energex and Ergon by 15.8 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.
In turn, this will decrease the dividends that we get from these energy companies, it will decrease the life of these energy companies and, more importantly, it will affect the jobs and employment supplied by these energy companies—Ergon, Energex and all those generators—in regional Queensland, especially in western Queensland. You can read my speech here.
Local Newspapers Under Threat
An issue of great concern to us all is the loss of access to local news, especially printed newspapers.
In Emerald we have lost the CQ News and subsequently the Highlands Leader. Currently the new Emerald Regional News is in suspension and now the Longreach leader joins it. This comes at a time when NewsCorp has said it cannot deliver a printed version of the Courier Mail, Sunday Mail and The Australian west of Emerald. Instead, NewsCorp is urging westerners to go online.
How To Keep It Coming
This is a great loss to our older people and for those who do not have good or reliable internet coverage. Remember, over 50 per cent of Gregory people live remotely or very remotely. Although this was a commercial decision – and so, not strictly a matter for an MP – I did try to help discussions with NewsCorp.
The outcome has been that the Daily Transport company will continue delivering printed newspapers west to our local newsagents. The newsagents will then be allowed to cover the cost of the freight as a surcharge on top of the NewsCorp price. This looks like it is going to be about 30 cents per paper.
Leader Has a Proud History
I hope a solution can be found for the Longreach Leader. It plays such a key role for the people of Queensland’s central west and has a proud record after nearly a century of reporting on the challenges of life in our outback. Our community life will be much the poorer if we lose it.
The Perfect Storm
I have no doubt that the continuing drought, which has lasted some eight years now, had a deep impact on local advertising revenues. But that is not the whole story. Unlike Longreach, for much of that time Emerald has had irrigation farming and a very busy mining sector. Yet it, too, has lost its local newspaper.
No Government Job Ads
One source of solid revenue which has now been lost is government advertising. They put all their public service recruitment on the Smart Jobs website.
No Public Information Ads
Now, Treasurer Dick has passed a law that the government doesn’t have to publish public notices in a local newspaper anymore. The information can just be posted on departmental websites or social media. It is up to you to find it. Classified ads in newspapers were once described as “rivers of gold”.
Not Even COVID Ads
Even large display ads have gone. COVID is supposedly a crisis that has us all on a “war” footing. Yet, none of the Chief Health Officer’s public health directives have been published in newspapers. You must visit her website.
Similarly, government advertising campaigns around COVID vaccination have not shown up in Gregory’s newspapers. But they are all over Facebook.
This has occurred at a time when so much of community life is shared widely and instantly through social media, while the tyranny of distance means a whole working week between the local paper’s deadline on a Monday and the delivery of the printed newspaper on the Friday.
Long Freight Times
It is a bitter irony that just as digital information gives us instant communication online, our real world freight connections are being allowed to become weaker and more fragile.
That is an area, in addition to public advertising, where the State Government could have helped.
Palliative Care Info Sessions
I recently spoke in Parliament, at length, about the desperate need for better access to palliative care for Gregory. So I am pleased to pass along the news that the federal primary health network for Central Queensland and Wide Bay is sponsoring information sessions in Emerald on end-of-life planning and the services provided through the Specialist Palliative Rural Telehealth Service (SPaRTa).
I know from sharing constituent experiences this makes all the difference for the patient and the family. The team offers specialised medical advice, pharmacy advice, nursing, social work, counselling and occupational therapy. You can literally see everyone’s worries lift a little when the palliative team comes on board.
For GPs, Nurses and Community
There will be an information session for GPs and Doctors at the Western Gateway Hotel in Emerald on Tuesday November 16 at 7.15 PM. There will also be a session for nurses and other health professionals at the Western Gateway on the same day at 5 PM.
What About Us?
There will be a community information session at the Emerald Library the next day, Wednesday November 17 at 5pm.
Due to COVIDsafe rules, these are all ticketed events, so for the booking link, ring Anne Bartuschat PH 4921 7777 or email [email protected]
Is Someone You Know Depressed or Anxious?
Now they can receive free mental healthcare in the privacy of their own home – no matter how remote that home is!
And they can make the call privately. They don’t need an awkward discussion. They don’t need a GP referral.
Free, Private and Personal Help for Gregory Folk
This week is Queensland Mental Health Week –so it’s a good time to talk about the STRATUS Tele-Mental Health Solution. This program has been put together by the White Cloud Foundation and I sincerely thank them.
A Treatment Team
Their team of 40 allied healthcare professionals includes psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, exercise physiologists and dieticians. Using a team-based approach, they design and deliver individualised mental health care to rural and remote people wherever they live, via the phone.
Don’t Despair – Make that Private Call
The individual plans include clinical, counselling and practical care that will help our people who are suffering after years of drought and now, COVID issues.
In such tough times, any small personal defeat can become the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Don’t despair. Pick up the phone.
Anyone anywhere in Gregory can access this care by calling (07) 3155 3456.
Or you can be referred by your GP, local hospital, workplace or community groups like Rotary or your local church or Neighbourhood Centre. So, keep an eye on your mates and share this number if they need it.
Thanks For Staying Up to Date
Thanks for reading and staying up to date with the state issues and services that affect Gregory.
If you wish to share this email with a friend or relative, you can simply forward it to them. If you wish to subscribe you can do so for free at my website here. If you no longer wish to receive this email, simply unsubscribe by clicking on the link below.
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]
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory