This afternoon, in a hearing of the Queensland Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee, Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) head Daniel Gschwind and CCIQ Policy and Advocacy GM Amanda Rohan both expressed major concerns about the Queensland Government’s bill to extend our Chief Health Officer’s emergency powers until the end of September.
QTIC’s Daniel Gschwind made the important point that it is the role of elected governments – i.e. implicitly, it is not the role of an unelected CHO – to weigh public health, civil liberties, and economic considerations in decision making. This is a similar point to one I made in my submission and my remarks to the Committee this afternoon, just before it knocked off at 4.30pm.
CCIQ wants changes to the bill in the interests of improving accountability, consultation, and transparency. CCIQ is concerned that it’s too difficult for businesses to predict when the CHO might impose a lockdown, and Amanda spoke about the disruptive effects on local businesses of the unexpected three-day Brisbane lockdown two weekends ago. CCIQ wants greater consideration to be given to the disruptive impacts that COVID control measures can have on industry, and it would like to be consulted on any future emergency measures, even if just via a phone call, which seems fair enough to me.
In my session, the Deputy Chair Rob Molhoek MP from the Opposition pointed out that NSW CHO Dr Kerry Chant doesn’t have the extraordinary powers our CHO has, and important decisions are made by the Health Minister, which in my view is entirely appropriate in our system of representative government and parliamentary democracy. Given Queensland’s CHO appears too quick and too willing to impose restrictions on the freedom of movement of millions of people, we may have avoided some bad decisions such as the Greater Brisbane lockdown, if our elected representatives took responsibility for these decisions. They may have had second thoughts on some of the measures and would ideally have sought out a wide range of views (e.g. from Greater Brisbane lockdown critic Professor Peter Collignon) before making such consequential decisions.
I hope the media picks up on Daniel’s and Amanda’s comments, because the bill before the Queensland Parliament desperately needs to be changed in the interests of good governance and civil liberties in Queensland.
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A pandemic, like war, is an extraordinary situation. These are not normal times. The normal parliamentary processes are not appropriate in emergency situations whether, in war, or in a pandemic. In such situations it is rational for key decision making be given to those with the specialist expertise to combat the threat. In this pandemic neither, industry, or parliamentarians, are experts in virology or infectious disease. The CCIQ is presumably primarily concerned about their member’s incomes, not eradication of the virus and saving people’s lives, which is the CHO’s duty. Extending the CHO executive legislative powers reduces the private sector’s capacity to influence government decisions to benefit their economic interests. It is not about high flown words of accountability and democracy. These are just words to cloak their self-interest, in the same manner as Adam Smith described about the butcher and the baker. It is about money. This is precisely the reason the CHO is given such executive powers to counter such self-interest individuals/bodies in order to protect lives. To criticize Queensland Health Authorities for being successful in eradicating the virus, when most of the rest of world is not, is not sensible. Had they been unsuccessful in controlling the virus, then that would be the time to criticize them.