Against the backdrop of drums, singing and desperate pleas by protestors the Queensland Government voted to extend emergency powers (Labor 48: Opposition 36) to at least October 2022.
In response protestors called for the sacking of all Queensland government members. This scene has played out in many jurisdictions across Australia and internationally with many governments overseas bringing an end to mandates and discriminatory vaccine policies.
But for Queenslanders, following submission of a report by the Community Support and Services Committee tabled in parliament on 25 March 2022, the Palaszczuk government moved to extend the state of emergency powers under the Public Health and Other Legislation (Extension of expiring provisions) Amendment Bill.
Minister D’Ath acknowledged that measures had been tough on business, the community and individuals but believed Queenslander’s health, social and economic outcomes stood as evidence that this approach was worth the hard work. She justified the extension of the Bill by stating mandatory vaccinations and public health directions remained in place at the Federal level and that no other state or territory had moved to lift restrictions.
More than 1,700 submissions were accepted by the Community Support and Services Committee. According to some on social media, more than 4,500 submissions were actually made, with many discarded. A common theme emerging from submissions that were considered was the impact emergency powers continue to have on day to day living, as well community frustration and fatigue.
In response to concerns raised in submissions, Opposition Health Minister Ross Bates acknowledged the significant upheaval to the lives of Queenslanders. This included the loss of loved ones and livelihoods. Minister Bates recognised that Queensland is in a very different position to the start of the pandemic and there was now a need to look to the future, with a clear, evidence based road map out of this state of emergency.
Serious questions on the Palaszczuk government’s commitment to transparency, openness and accountability were raised. This included rushing through the extension to the public health provisions without allowing for the proper and thorough review that the Bill deserved.
Mrs. Mullen (ALP) admitted that the decision to introduce mandatory vaccinations was based on the ALP’s desire to lift vaccination rates in Queensland. This is despite new evidence that has shown that vaccination status does not stop all transmission, illness, hospitalisation, or death. Indeed, Member for Southern Downs told the parliament that despite being triple vaxed, he caught COVID-19 and then spread it to the rest of his family – all of whom have received vaccinations.
Mrs. Mullen drew on figures from the World Health Organization that more than 480 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 supported the need for harsh measures. She neglected to note according to the World Health Organization Global Influenza Strategy 2019-2030 that each year, more than 1 billion people worldwide catch influenza.
Minister Bleijie discussed the impacts of government policies on the wellbeing and health of Queenslanders. These included heart wrenching stories of Queenslanders being denied the right to return home, significant mental health impacts and division across communities. This is on top of the hardship experienced by many businesses and individuals who have been denied the means of providing for their families due to mandatory policies. Minister Bleijie stated what many on social media believe – that the Labor government does not want to let go of its control over people’s lives.
The LNP member for Burleigh asked why the Palaszczuk government had left such a vital piece of legislation to the last minute, with little time for the public and stakeholders to adequately review the bill and discuss concerns with health officials. The Labor party did not provide a response.
These concerns were reiterated by Minister Bleijie who noted that parliament could have easily returned to discuss urgent matters, including extension of the Bill. Minister Bleijie reiterated that the time for division was over, and it was now time for healing our communities and bringing them back together.
The Katter party raised concerns held by many Queenslanders, including a group of dedicated protestors who remained in Brisbane to plead with government to end the mandates and vaccine discrimination. Mr Knuth noted 1,700 submissions were received against the bill, including submissions made by the Human Rights Commission and the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties.
He noted the justification provided by the Labor party was not sufficient to extend the powers, quoting the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties submission – The government’s repeated failures to provide a set of criteria by which it will decide to end the emergency other than a criterion which must result in it continuing so long as the virus is circulating in the community, must lead one to conclude that the government will keep the emergency powers for as long as it likes.
They further stated that these are the most Draconian powers that have ever existed in Queensland, including in wartime. … This is entirely unacceptable because it represents a clear and present danger to our civil liberties. These concerns were also raised by members of the opposition.
The Human Rights Commission argued that as a community, we have learnt about the impacts of quarantining conditions on people’s mental health, the human rights limitations arising from public health directions that confine people to their homes and the mandating of vaccines. Powers imposing such significant human rights limitations cannot continue without proper oversight, transparency and external review.