The Palaszczuk Government’s simple and appealing message of Keeping Queenslanders Safe has helped it win an increased majority, and there is no doubt Queensland has done well to control coronavirus and our state economy has coped with the COVID-shock better than most. But we shouldn’t give up scrutinising state government policy decisions in the wake of the Government’s massive election victory. The Government still needs to do more to justify its decisions, including the decision the day before the election to continue to exclude people from Greater Sydney from Queensland – i.e. almost two-in-three people living in NSW.
Once again, on Friday, the Premier said she’s following the health advice. But as I’ve noted before, the health advice on its own is insufficient to justify the border decision. What weight is given to the adverse economic impacts of the NSW border restrictions, recognising that the risk to Queenslanders of opening up to Sydney is surely very small? The Chief Health Officer (CHO) and the Government need to be clear on the value judgements they are making in their decision-making process. They need to tell us how they are avoiding David Hume’s Is-Ought Problem, that you need to be careful making statements about what ought to be done based on facts alone (i.e. what is). Disturbingly, the CHO has been all over the place in trying to articulate her decision making framework (e.g. see my post Big questions about Qld Chief Health Officer’s judgment – Premier needs to show leadership and Qld’s harsh border policy – a conversation with Joe Branigan).
The Government should publish the advice it has received from the CHO so the advice is open to public discussion and debate. The long delay in responding to Graham Turner’s Right-To-Information request on the health advice regarding the border restrictions is disgraceful (see this Travel Weekly article).
Also, the remaining border restrictions should be reviewed at least weekly, not monthly, given the large adverse impact on industry. The Government’s most recent decision is difficult to comprehend, given what appears to be a very low risk associated with opening up to Sydney, and, extraordinarily, the decision has bemused not only industry players such as Qantas’s Alan Joyce but even Queensland’s former Premier Peter Beattie, who wrote the excellent opinion piece Winning was easy for Palaszczuk – but now there is nowhere to hide.
Finally, I’m very concerned the state government doesn’t fully understand how much the tourism-dependent hospitality sector continues to suffer, and how beneficial loosening the border restrictions further would be. Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles annoyed many in the industry last week when he observed, as reported by the Brisbane Times:
“Our hospitality sector is running as close to normal as anywhere else in the world, in fact better than anywhere else in the world, and that is because we don’t currently have cases.”
Arguably, it was just a poor choice of words by the Deputy Premier to say “close to normal” but it understandably annoyed many people in the industry. In early October, there were still over 10% fewer jobs in the Queensland Accommodation and Food Services (i.e. hospitality) industry than in mid-March, according to the Single Touch Payroll data reported by the ABS. Queensland has recovered more than NSW (down 18%) and Victoria (down 29%) but you can’t say we’re “close to normal”. Obviously, regions with a large economic contribution from hospitality have fared worse than others. For instance, in Surfers Paradise in early October, total payroll employment (across all industries) was still 6.5% below the level pre-COVID (see map below). We are far from “close to normal”.