Border communities will remain divided, with the Queensland Labor Government banning short-term interstate trips when the border is set to open.
This followed confusion caused by the Government claiming people would have to pay $145 for a PCR test when they enter the state.
Under stage 3 of the Queensland road map, vaccinated Australians will be allowed to enter Queensland from Covid-19 hot spots from December 17, provided they have had a negative PCR test within the previous 72 hours.
PCR tests were always free for people who need to get tested due to a state public health order.
A fee is only charged if an official certificate is required, which won’t be the case now that the Premier has agreed to allow official text messages as proof.
This is good news. It will end the anxiety caused by fear of a border tax.
But the Queensland Government’s decision to effectively ban Queenslanders from taking trips over the border of less than 72 hours will keep border communities divided.
In normal times, residents in these communities often need to cross the border multiple times per day.
Banning short-term trips makes this impossible, and the restriction isn’t set to end until we reach the 90 per cent vaccination milestone.
Retail businesses in Queensland’s border communities were already feeling the pain from borders being closed during the Christmas period.
They hoped that the border opening in the final week before Christmas would lead to a spike in sales. Their sales will be crippled by this ban.
The ban is an attempt to close a loophole caused by the time it takes to get PCR test results. This would not be a problem if the Queensland Government allowed the use of rapid antigen tests.
Rapid antigen tests have been widely used in Western countries throughout the pandemic. They’re available for purchase at supermarkets and pharmacies and, at about $10 to $15 per test, they are just one-tenth the cost of a PCR test.
The TGA has approved their use, which satisfies the requirement in the Queensland road map. Despite this, the Queensland Government is insisting on the use of the slightly more accurate but far more expensive PCR tests – a decision that could cause countless businesses to go bankrupt, costing Queenslanders their jobs.
This isn’t the first time Queensland’s border policies have caused hardship.
Sudden border lockdowns, the suspension of hotel quarantine and the lack of places once it restarted led to thousands of Queenslanders stranded interstate for months.
Many had to pay for accommodation while they waited; those who could not afford that were told to go to homeless shelters.
We’ve seen extraordinary scenes of a makeshift refugee camp being set up for stranded Queenslanders 10km south of the border.
The Red Cross has been providing these displaced residents with food parcels, and NSW border communities have begun convening emergency management committees to help deal with the situation.
Once we reach the 80 per cent double-vaccination target, we will have sufficient protection from Covid-19 to live safely with the virus.
We should be doing away with border restrictions, not banning people taking short trips out of the state.
Of course, this isn’t the only restriction set to come in on December 17.
The opening of the borders will coincide with harsh new restrictions being imposed on unvaccinated Queenslanders.
They will be barred from attending most hospitality, entertainment and cultural venues.
Vaccination is incredibly important. It is the best thing individuals can do to protect themselves from the serious health consequences that Covid-19 can cause.
It is also our pathway to living safely with the virus.
But there are some people who will refuse to get vaccinated.
People who make this decision are voluntarily accepting the increased health risks that will come from catching the virus.
How we treat these people is a mark of our society.
We might disagree with their decision, but they should not be relegated to the status of second-class citizens and banished from the public square.
Doing so is callous and divisive.
It will also push many to the fringes of society, feeding extremist elements about which we should all be concerned.
Restrictions are supposed to reduce once 80 per cent of us are vaccinated.
The State Government shouldn’t be introducing new bans on travel, or imposing new restrictions on unvaccinated Queenslanders.
Our vaccination rates mean we’ve never been better protected.
Elected representatives have a mandate to fight for the people they represent. This is a basic principle of democracy.
That’s why it’s distressing that Barcaldine Mayor Sean Dillon is facing charges of misconduct for scrutinising Queensland Labor’s plan to vaccinate his community.
The plan sought to vaccinate 2,900 people spread over 53,677sq km in three days in Barcaldine and one day in each smaller town.
Cr Dillon pointed out that this plan would not be sufficiently accessible to the most vulnerable people in his community and was potentially unworkable.
For this he has been subjected to a seven-month investigation from the Office of the Independent Assessor, on the grounds that his comments expressing reasonable concern were “detrimental to public confidence in a health service provider and lead agency in the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination program”.
This is a massive bureaucratic overreach. It amounts to an attempt to censoring local councillors from speaking up for those they represent. To add insult to injury, when Mayor Dillon exercised his right to challenge the legality of the gag, the charge was upgraded from “inappropriate conduct” to “misconduct” – timing that ought to ring alarm bells, particularly given the OIA have not explained why they are seemingly penalising Mayor Dillon for exercising his legal rights.
There are few express rights in Australia’s Constitution, but there is a long line of cases that establish an implied right of political communication, which is necessary for our democratic system of government to function.
But it seems Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Labor are prepared to trash basic democratic freedoms if it muzzles criticism. No doubt they have become emboldened by the effectiveness of using the politics of fear to implement border closures and lockdowns.
This attack on democracy shows the true purpose of Palaszczuk’s local government reforms: to stop councillors from daring to question the state government – to stop them from properly representing you.
It’s a betrayal of every Queenslander’s fundamental freedoms, and it shows the Premier’s contempt for the democratic freedoms and liberties on which our society depends. Queenslanders deserve better.