The end of the pandemic is in sight. After two years of lockdowns, border closures, curfews and mask mandates, Australians are finally regaining the freedoms many us once took for granted.
But just as governments throughout history have held on to increased power following wars and financial crises, some state political leaders – such as Victoria’s Daniel Andrews – are desperately clinging to the powers they’ve used during the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the Andrews Government introduced the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021. According to Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley, the bill replaces the existing state of emergency powers with “the most accountable, transparent and public health-focused system in the Commonwealth”.
In reality, it grants the Premier extraordinary new powers that far exceed those used over the past two years. These include the power to make pandemic declarations and extend them every three months, without ever having to seek approval from the Victorian Parliament. There doesn’t even need to be a pandemic causing disease in the state.
There are a few positives. The bill transfers the power to sign off on public health orders from the Chief Health Officer to the Health Minister – meaning it will no longer be in the hands of an unelected bureaucrat; there will be greater measures preventing police from accessing QR code data; and the requirement for all relevant public health advice to be made public.
But these are outweighed by the lack of judicial and parliamentary oversight, with the Andrews Government instead subjecting itself to oversight from a committee of its own hand-picked public health and human rights experts. No doubt the same public health and human rights experts who were conspicuously absent from the public conversation about the encroachment upon individual liberties over the last two years.
The Health Minister will have the power to make “any order” the minister “believes is reasonably necessary to protect public health”. This is a virtually unlimited power that will allow the minister to rule by decree for as long as a pandemic is deemed to exist. The minister will be able to impose restrictions on movement, limits on public and private gatherings, mandate that businesses close, impose curfews, or enact measures that weren’t even contemplated over the past two years.
In the words of the Victorian Bar Association, it authorises “virtually unlimited interference with the liberties of Victorian citizens.”
People who fail to comply with the pandemic orders, despite knowing they risked public safety, could face fines of up to $90,500 or two years imprisonment. Businesses could be fined up to $452,500.
Surely this is an excessive way to punish someone for not wearing a mask, or a business that fails to check a person’s vaccination status.
The bill could potentially lead to a pandemic being declared and protesters put in jail, despite the disease not existing in Victoria.
Surprisingly, the bill even includes provisions that allow health orders to be targeted at “specific classes” of people. This means the Andrews Government wants to exempt itself from its own anti-discrimination laws, so it can discriminate against people based on their race, sex, religion, political beliefs, or any of the 14 other attributes currently protected under Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act.
This could be used to subject conscientious objectors to compulsory vaccination; it could be used to require any specified person, or any group of people with a common attribute, to be deprived of any or all liberties. That common attribute could be anything from neighbourhood of residence to physical appearance, political view to ethnic background. This is not a power any government should have.
It should scare the socks off every Australian, even those supporters of Daniel Andrews who believe he has their best interests at heart.
Governments that seize greater power during a crisis rarely give it up once the crisis ends. This is not only true of dictatorships, but democracies as well.
Unless the extraordinary powers used during a crisis are immediately repudiated, they tend to remain on the shelf and become normalised, ready for use by future governments.
As the past two years has revealed, the politicians, activists and academics that have been talking about the importance of human rights for the past 20 years cannot be counted on when governments are deciding between fundamental freedoms and public health. The academics and discrimination bodies have gone missing, and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights has proven useless.
They remained silent as state governments took away fundamental freedoms in the name of public health – causing seething anger in even the most compliant people. There is no reason to assume things will be any different in the future.
The only way to prevent these powers being misused is to prevent the government from having them.
We ought to be responding to this period of hardship by restoring the tolerant and open society that has made us the freest, fairest and most abundant country in the world. We should observe the public health measures that worked, and heed the lessons of the measures that had little impact on spread or severity but tore families apart, savaged mental health, and caused enormous economic harm.
The Andrews Government has instead responded with a bill the Victorian Bar Association calls “The biggest challenge to the rule of law that this state has faced in decades.” This power grab speaks volumes about the big-government authoritarian instinct that lies just beneath the surface of Labor’s so-called “compassionate” veneer.
Queensland’s hospital crisis has exposed years of Labor’s mismanagement and revealed how Premier Palaszczuk is using Covid to conceal her incompetence.
Figures revealed this week show Queensland hospitals issued 31 “code yellow” alarms throughout September. These alerts instructs ambulances to divert to other emergency departments because hospital beds are at or near capacity.
Code yellows ought to be rare. But on Tuesday, the four largest hospitals in North Queensland all issued code yellows, a situation described as “unprecedented” by Australian College for Emergency Medicine president John Bonning.
Rather than taking ownership of the problem, Anastacia Palaszczuk doubled down on her strategy of using fear of Covid to conceal issues caused by her own government’s failings.
In an attempt at an old-fashioned shakedown, Palaszczuk again threatened to back out of her commitment to the National Plan, saying she would keep the state’s borders closed after 80 per cent of Queenslanders are vaccinated – unless the federal government provides more funding.
What Palaszczuk failed to mention was that federal funding for Queensland hospitals is at record highs.
Even before the pandemic, Federal funding for public hospital services in Queensland was increasing at double the rate of the Queensland government’s own funding. Between 2012-13 and 2019-20, federal funding under the National Health Reform Agreement (NHRA) grew from 2.7 billion to 5.4 billion – a 101 per cent increase.
Queensland’s own funding only increased by 53 per cent over the same period. The new NHRA will see federal funding increase by $8.8 billion over the five years between 2020-21 and 2024-5.
Palaszcuk knows the current hospital crisis has nothing to do with federal funding, just as it has nothing to do with Covid. It’s a problem caused by years of mismanagement by Palaszcuk’s own Labor government.
This is the same reason Queensland hospital ramping rates are skyrocketing. The current state-wide ramping rate is 41 per cent – 20 per cent higher than the same time last year. Ramping rates are particularly bad in South East Queensland, with 8 hospitals having ramping rates above 50 per cent.
What has the Government done about this problem? They did announce a $2 billion hospital building fund in the last budget, but it won’t build a single new facility this financial year.
And if the Queensland Government continues to spend at the rate outlined in the budget, it’ll be 30 years before $2 billion is spent through the fund. It’s not like the Premier dislikes spending. In the next five years Queensland’s government debt is set to hit $127 billion. In the LNP’s last budget it was $80 billion.
Labor likes to describe itself as the party of heath, so you’d think they would have used the last 18 months to prepare Queensland’s hospital system for Covid. Instead, they’ve used Covid as an excuse for inaction.
Labor have turned the state into a virtual hermit kingdom, and are presiding over the slowest vaccination rates in the country. They are preventing thousands of Queenslanders from returning home and haven’t even offered them a timeline of how long they’ll have to wait.
At the start of October there were still 8,310 people who were waiting for their entry permits to be approved. This included almost 4000 Queenslanders. Yet the Queensland government was providing just 245 quarantine hotel rooms.
Behind these numbers are countless heartbreaking stories. There are Queenslanders who left to visit dying relatives and Queenslanders who had to bury their children.
Some left Queensland before any border restrictions were introduced, and many have no place of residence outside of their home state. Some Queenslanders have been able to stay with friends or family while they wait, but many have been forced to bear the financial burden of lengthy hotel stays.
Some Queenslanders who have complained about their plight have been told by Labor’s bureaucracy to go to a homeless shelter.
This is no way to run a hotel quarantine system and its no way to run a state. At the very least, Queenslanders who are double vaccinated should be allowed to return and quarantine at home. Yet Palaszczuk has failed to provide solutions that allow Queenslanders to return while minimising the risk to the community.
Instead she uses fear of Covid to conceal the hospital crisis her government has caused.
Not content with manipulating the fears of older Queenslanders, the Premier has now moved to frightening parents.
In a desperate attempt to deflect criticism from her border decisions, Palaszczuk said that any opening of the border before “every child [is] vaccinated” was putting children at risk.
“You open up this state and you let the virus in here and every child under 12 is vulnerable, every single child.”
Not only does this conflict with the scientific evidence, it also sets a requirement for opening that no government can ever reach.
At present, 7 per cent of people over 70 who contract Covid will end up in ICU, with 46 per cent needing hospitalisation for a less severe set of symptoms.
In contrast, even for the Delta strain, just 0.1 per cent of people under 14 who contract it will find themselves in ICU.
This is why a long line of medical experts have advised against the need to vaccinate children under 12.
Queensland paediatrician Professor Robert Booy says “keeping borders shut because of the children is not a sensible measure”. He makes it very clear that the risk exists only for the small number of children who are already complex cases because of existing chronic conditions.
Professor Fiona Russell, paediatrician with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, has explained that while children can exhibit flu-like symptoms, they rarely become seriously ill, even with the Delta strain. As she put it, “Covid in kids is nothing like what occurs in adults.”
And in responding to Palaszczuk’s fear-mongering, Professor Paul Kelly – Australia’s chief medical officer – said that even with the Delta variant, there is “very little evidence anywhere in the world that severity has increased” for childhood infections.
Using NSW as an example, Professor Kelly explained that most of the children hospitalised for Covid reasons were there because their parents were sick and couldn’t look after them.
What Palaszczuk neglected to mention was that there is no vaccine recommended for children under 12 – not in Australian or another country. This means she’s setting a requirement for opening the borders that no government can reach.
This overreach exposes what has been at the heart of her motivation for months now: using fear to maintain power and control.
It was one thing to lock Queenslanders in when there was no vaccine, but Australians now have access to vaccines in abundance. To continue to lock up Queenslanders indefinitely – even when 70 or 80 per cent of the community is vaccinated – is plainly unreasonable. Yet this is what the Premier is calling for by suggesting we must wait until a vaccine for kids has been invented, tested, manufactured and distributed. No such vaccine is even on the horizon.
What’s worse is that the Premier has no alternate plan to hiding under the doona for the foreseeable future. Snap lockdowns and closed state borders – with their dubious constitutionality in an environment of abundant vaccines – are no recipe for confronting and dealing with this virus.
The Doherty modelling is clear. At 70 and 80 per cent vaccination, the harms that come to physical and mental health exceed the risk that comes from Covid itself.
Federal Labor agrees with the national plan. Asked about Palaszczuk’s comments Labor leader Anthony Albanese said “we need to follow the health advice”. Deputy leader Richard Marles said “I would be distancing myself from the comments of Anastacia.”
It’s time for the Premier to stop toying with the health, safety, livelihoods, and economy of Queenslanders. Time for her to stop undermining confidence in the vaccine, and confidence in the National Plan without an alternate vision of her own.
Rather than playing games, the Premier should focus on getting Queensland’s hospitals up to scratch. Ramping rates at hospitals are a far bigger risk to children with complex and chronic conditions than Covid.
There’s only one plan on the table for safely moving out of the pandemic and confidently resuming normal life, giving our children confidence of continuity in their education, job stability and business viability. The economic support measures cannot go on forever – and it would be corrosive to our national morale if they did.
It’s time for the Queensland Labor Government to honour the commitment they made at National Cabinet in July, and get serious about implementing the National Plan.
Premier Palaszczuk is choosing politics over people. Queenslanders deserve better.
Over the past week we’ve heard stories about some of the Queenslanders stranded interstate by the Labor government’s decision to revoke their right to return home.
We’ve heard how a cancer patient has been stranded on the NSW side of the border, after returning from her mother’s funeral. We’ve heard how a pregnant mother in the process of moving to the Sunshine Coast suffered a miscarriage on her friend’s floor. And we’ve heard how a plane full of NRL families has been exempted from the ban applied to Queensland citizens.
Now Palaszczuk is using the safety of children as a pretence to keep borders closed, saying she will “stand strong” on borders “until I get every child vaccinated”.
The safety of children is always a primary concern. But for Palaszczuk, this is just the latest way to shift the goalposts so she can continue to conceal the real reason for backing out of the National Plan for Covid-19 – her government has run Queensland’s health care system into the ground, and is incapable of running a hotel quarantine system.
Queensland’s healthcare system is in a bad state. After six years of state Labor government, ambulance ramping rates are out of control. The state-wide ambulance ramping rate is now 41 per cent, after doubling in the past year.
This means more Queenslanders are left waiting for the care they need at the time they need it most.
Ramping rates in South East Queensland are a disgrace, with 58 per cent for Logan Hospital, 57 per cent at Queen Elizabeth II and Redlands Hospitals, and 50 per cent at
Gold Coast University Hospital.
These failures are despite the federal government providing record hospital, Medicare, and PBS funding.
But ramping rates are far from the only evidence of Labor’s incompetence. Along with WA, Queensland has the lowest vaccination rates of any state or territory, with just 31.7 per cent of Queenslanders aged over 16 being fully vaccinated. On current projections, Queensland won’t reach an 80 per cent vaccination rate until 9 December – that’s 99 days, the longest of any state or territory.
And as we now know, Palaszczuk’s government can’t manage a hotel quarantine system with 5,000 people entering Queensland at a time.
Even after the rightful public outcry, the best the Queensland government has been able to do is offer 50 additional places in hotel Quarantine. That’s right - just 50 places for the hundreds, if not thousands, of Queenslanders who are stranded.
It’s as if the Premier has confused the Olympic games with the Hunger Games.
This mismanagement is the real reason they’re backing out of the National Plan for managing Covid-19.
This plan will see an end to the endless cycle of lockdowns, and a gradual opening up of state and international borders as vaccination rates increase. It will require learning to live with Covid-19 – with vaccination making symptoms less severe – just as we still live with the strains of influenza descended from the Spanish Flu of 1918.
Yet despite agreeing to this plan just weeks ago, Palaszczuk seems set on sticking to a zero-Covid strategy, even after 80 per cent of Queenslanders are vaccinated.
The idea that lockdowns, border restrictions, and zero-Covid is a realistic long-term approach is fanciful.
It simply isn’t realistic. It would require indefinite isolation from the outside world, relegating Queensland from Australia’s tourist mecca to a virtual hermit kingdom.
Thankfully, this approach will not be tolerated by the Australian people. As the YouGov polling published by NewCorp showed, two out of three Australians believe vaccinations are the pathway back to normal life, and only 22 per cent believing that lockdowns must continue until Covid cases reach zero.
In other words, the path chosen by Queensland is unsustainable – the public simply won’t wear it.
The same polling showed that mental health and financial concerns have eclipsed fear of Covid-19 itself.
This isn’t surprising – 400 Queenslanders are now calling Lifeline every day, with the service recently experiencing three of the busiest days in its 57-year history. And things get worse as more Australians suffer from the economic and mental health hardships that come from state government lockdowns and border restrictions.
Queenslanders know lockdowns and border restrictions can’t continue forever – there must be a pathway back to normal life.
The Morrison Government and agreed on such a plan with state and territory leaders at National Cabinet. This plan will see us end the perpetual lockdowns and border restrictions that have limited our freedom for much of the past 18 months.
Prolonging the status quo indefinitely is irresponsible, and Queenslanders won’t stand for it.
Why does Annastacia Palaszczuk think National Cabinet’s roadmap to reopening doesn’t apply to her? - Spectator Australia
Queenslanders are now far too familiar with the snap lockdowns and border restrictions used by the state government to manage Covid-19.
We have all experienced the hardship of being cut off from friends and family, or not being able to enjoy the freedoms that make this country such a wonderful place to live. Those in the border bubble have the added difficulty of dealing with checkpoints – now manned by the military – that have split communities apart along a once invisible border.
These are harsh emergency measures, and they should not be imposed any longer than absolutely necessary. So why is Queensland’s Labor Government so reluctant to see us safely reopen as the vaccination program progresses?
At National Cabinet, our Prime Minister and all state premiers agreed to a four-stage plan to get Australians vaccinated, safely end the cycle of lockdowns and re-open Australia’s internal borders. It means shifting our mindset from counting Covid cases to considering their severity, as we learn to live with its less harmful presentation post-vaccination.
Yet Deputy Premier Steven Miles is now suggesting the border with New South Wales might not open, even if 80 per cent of Australians are vaccinated. For her part, Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk has simply refused to say which Covid restrictions will remain in place once this target is reached. Why the backflip?
They’ve frozen hotel quarantine. Is that because they can’t book a few more rooms in Brisbane’s vacant hotels, or because they aren’t confident in their competence in managing it?
Could the Premier be motivated by locking the PM out of the state, to give her federal colleagues a hand and avoid being held accountable herself, or does she want to keep the fear of Covid alive?
There is a reason why: Labor wants to keep borders closed because they know our hospital system is mismanaged, under-resourced, and ill-prepared.
Just look at their vaccine rollout. They’ve undermined confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, and now Queensland’s vaccination levels are the lowest nationally.
While New South Wales is on track for 70 per cent vaccination within 2 months, Queensland isn’t set to get there until December.
Try and get an appointment with a state government service, and you’ll deal with confusion and delays. Use the HotDoc app – run by the private sector – and you’ll book in minutes for a jab within days.
But it is the ambulance ramping rates that show the true depth of Labor’s mismanagement.
In the June Quarter, Gold Coast University Hospital had a 50 per cent ramping rate – an 18 per cent increase since the June quarter of 2020. At Logan Hospital it was a staggering 58 per cent, 22 per cent higher than the same time last year; at Redland Hospital it’s a 57 per cent ramping rate, up 6 per cent; at QEII Hospital it’s also 57 per cent ramping, a 16 per cent rise. These hospitals aren’t even dealing with high COVID case numbers.
It is symptomatic of state government incompetence writ large, and comes despite record Federal funding for Queensland’s hospitals, Medicare and the PBS.
No wonder the Queensland Government thinks it’s easier to slam the borders shut and call in the military. But this draconian approach will only increase the anxiety so many Queenslanders are feeling.
While many of us have secure employment and strong family support systems, others are less lucky. Every day, 400 Queenslanders reach out to Lifeline because they are struggling.
Nationally, calls to Lifeline increased by 40 per cent since 2019, with three of the busiest days in their 57-year history occurring this month. Beyond Blue has likewise reported a 30 per cent increase in calls compared to before the pandemic.
This hardship is not equally spread throughout our community.
According to a new UNSW study, the mental health of young adults aged between 18 and 34 are the most affected by Covid restrictions.
Many self-employed and small businesses are also experiencing particular hardship, with the added economic stress of struggling to keep their businesses afloat whilst dealing with snap lockdowns and border closures.
But people across all demographics have struggled. They are all our fellow Australians, and they can’t hold on indefinitely.
Regaining the freedoms we enjoyed before Covid is fundamental to restoring our economy and our mental health.
Queensland Labor must meet its commitments under the national plan. There is no other path out of the pandemic than vaccination. If they aren’t capable of getting their act together, they should resign.