With its poorly thought out regulations surrounding Queensland’s reopening, the state government is providing lots of instructive examples of adverse unintended consequences of regulations. Among other problems, we have had:
- overstretched COVID testing centres, here and in other states, although thankfully the Government has now scrapped the fifth day PCR test requirement for visitors here, which should reduce the load in Queensland at least*; and
- several hospitality businesses having to close during this usually busy time for them due to staff members going into isolation after being identified as contacts of COVID cases, a problem which is expected to worsen as COVID numbers increase (e.g. see today’s Courier-Mail report ‘Be more sensible’: Hospitality industry just ‘days away’ from crippling staff shortages).
As usual, the Queensland Government has been defensive, with the Premier saying the other day no one could have expected 400,000 people would have wanted to come into Queensland after the borders reopened. This makes me wonder just how many people the Government did expect? Did it get any advice on this from its Treasury or tourism department? The state government would have dozens, if not hundreds of public servants, who could have had a decent go at providing such advice.
The Government obviously hasn’t been doing the back office work in planning for the reopening that it should have been doing. In my view, the underlying problem is that we’ve seen policy on the run, the Government making it up as it goes along, and an abandonment of traditional policy process which, while not always delivering great results, did at least largely prevent governments from doing stupid things.
Alas, the state government has not been listening to public policy experts who’ve been calling for a restoration of sound policy processes since the middle of last year. In their July 2020 Menzies Research Centre paper Getting Australia Safely Back to Work, Henry Ergas and Joe Branigan wrote:
The worst having been avoided, normal policy evaluation rules should apply…
…Given the significantly reduced health risk from COVID-19, the use of ‘Ministerial Direction’ should cease immediately.
Previous orders should be re-assessed and revoked within a specified timeframe. At the same time, any restrictions that remain in place should be fully subject to the regulation review process, including, where appropriate, through Post-Implementation Reviews.
In September, the state government extended the CHO’s emergency powers to cover the first three months of 2022. Policy is still being made without proper consideration by the broader public service, Cabinet, and the Parliament. One result of this is that we are seeing such poorly thought out regulations which end up having adverse unintended consequences.
The sharp and often unexpected changes we’ve experienced in COVID regulations in Queensland have reminded me of the Green Lantern coaster at Movie World on the Gold Coast. But at least the Green Lantern ride was over in a bit over a minute. Unfortunately, we have at least a few more months left of Queensland’s current COVID emergency policy regime, a regime which is producing some poorly thought out regulations.
*While I was drafting this post, the Premier announced the COVID testing requirement will be scrapped for interstate visitors from hotspots from 1 January. So good news there, but why did we have such an unworkable rule in the first place?
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