Submissions to the Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into the extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency and the Chief Health Officer’s extraordinary powers have been published on the Parliamentary website. I can highly recommend a brilliant submission from Griffith Associate Professor of Law Dr Kate Galloway, who makes a strong case for greater transparency and accountability regarding the actions of Queensland’s CHO. I tried to make similar points to Dr Galloway in my submission to the Inquiry, but Dr Galloway makes the points much better than me and absolutely shreds the government’s bill to extend the CHO’s emergency powers, which have gone far beyond what should be tolerated in a parliamentary democracy. Dr Galloway writes in paragraphs 3.1 and 3.2:
3.1 The borders have been closed, people have faced criminal prosecution for leaving their homes without ‘valid’ reason, and businesses have been shut down—all by order of the CHO and without Parliamentary debate.
3.2. These measures constitute radical incursions into existing rights and assumptions about the way that Queenslanders live. These have been imposed solely through the authority of the CHO, as a member of executive arm of government, without Parliamentary oversight or transparency.
The Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee should take Dr Galloway’s submission very seriously. She is not necessarily saying that all the state government’s COVID-19 measures were bad measures, but rather that the process by which they were decided upon was illegitimate, and I completely agree with her there.
Here is Dr Galloway’s summary of her submission which succinctly makes her case and identifies what needs to change:
1.1. Given that Queensland is likely to need to rely on the advice of the CHO for some time, the Bill is an inadequate response to the government’s responsibility for good governance including: accountability, transparency, and publicity.
1.2. This submission urges Parliament to adopt in the Bill a balance between desirable manoevrability in government decision-making and the principles of good governance.
1.3. The Bill should be reconsidered to acknowledge the development beyond an emergency situation, to a ‘new normal’, and incorporate effective measures to:
a. Provide oversight of and accountability for directions to Parliament;
b. Record and publicise directions in accordance with legislative norms; and
c. Provide transparency of law-making overall.
Well done, Dr Galloway.
Finally, none of this should be read as criticism directed at the CHO, Dr Jeannette Young. She is trying hard to do the best she can in what is probably the most challenging job in the state at the moment. After all, regarding COVID-19, the Premier has said she doesn’t make the decisions; the important decisions are made by the CHO. Of course, as Dr Galloway’s brilliant submission suggests, this represents a clear abdication of responsibility by the Premier and her Cabinet.
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