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Crash or crash through: Palaszczuk ploughs on with mining camp quarantine plan

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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is ploughing ahead with plans to quarantine overseas arrivals at regional mining camps despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reservations and concerns from regional mayors.

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The Premier raised the matter at National Cabinet today saying the issue was “about getting more Australians home”.

“I put to the Prime Minister some options about where we could look at some alternative quarantine, away from our capital city,” Palaszczuk said.

“The details of the proposal will be going to the Prime Minister more formally, but we looked at a number of options involving both Gladstone and Toowoomba.”

Palaszczuk said she had spoken to the Mayor of Gladstone Matt Burnett and he had been supportive of the proposal.

However, earlier in the week, Burnett signed a letter to the Premier and Prime Minister on behalf of his council, that asked 12 “urgent” questions about risks to health and business, if a mining camp near the town were used.

He said local governments did not have a “seat at the table” when it came to planning decisions about quarantine.

“This highlights the need for a seat at National Cabinet for local government,” he said.

“This is going to affect local communities, and yet there is no local representation.”

Morrison visited Central Queensland yesterday, where he said he had spoken to locals who “don’t want to see Brisbane’s issues dumped on those in the north”.

He said his Government would keep an “open mind” when considering the Queensland Government’s plan.

“We’ll look at this proposal, but I just note the issues that have been raised up in Gladstone by the Mayor — they’re legitimate issues that need to be considered,” he said.

“There would be an enormous amount of maintenance work done on the industrial plants up in Gladstone over the course of this year.

“One of the reasons Australia has done well economically through the course of COVID is we’ve been able to keep our heavy industry going.

“The prospect of that being impacted in a community like that needs to be carefully considered.”

The prime minister said while the issue had only briefly been raised at National Cabinet, it remained an issue for each state and territory to work through.

Speaking on ABC Radio Brisbane earlier today, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said she was “disappointed” to hear the Prime Minister’s comments on the mining camp quarantine plan.

“Our biggest risk in Australia is international arrivals and how we manage them … this is a national issue, it is a national risk.

“All the states and territories have been managing hotel quarantine alone, we do not get financial support from the Government at all to do that.

“To say it’s just a Brisbane problem that we should not dump on anyone, it’s not about moving it out of a populated area, it’s about how do we actually manage them better by … bringing the workforce together so that we do not have people spread over multiple sites, multiple workforces where there is more risk of there being a break out.”

D’Ath said more than 63,000 people had gone through Queensland’s hotel quarantine facilities, but only one case had arisen where a worker contracted the virus.

It comes as Queensland records another day of no new community cases with just three overseas acquired coronavirus infections detected on Friday.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall told a state parliamentary hearing on Friday the body had received 54 complaints about hotel quarantine, with the lack of daily access to fresh air a key concern.

He said the Government had deemed it unsafe to allow travellers access to daily fresh air breaks but “despite the efforts of the State Disaster Coordination Centre to source appropriate accommodation… many of these hotels do not have windows that open or have private balconies”.

“Remote facilities would have the space and access to fresh air to ensure more humane conditions and would reduce the risk of infections leaking into metropolitan areas,” he said.

“Given the need for quarantining will continue well beyond 2021, the establishment of long-term facilities should be a priority for all levels of government.”

In October — in its first ever unresolved complaint report — the commission called for those in hotel quarantine to receive daily access to fresh air, or for the Government to use only hotel rooms with opening windows and balconies.

The hearing is examining the powers granted to Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young under public health laws, as parliament considers extending them until September 30.

McDougall told the hearing the commission commended the Government and Dr Young for “taking tough decisions to protect lives”.

“However, this public health response has come at the cost of limiting other human rights, impacting greatly on the lives of many Queenslanders,” he said.

McDougall said the commission had received 440 inquiries and 158 formal complaints relating to COVID-19, with 45 of them ongoing.

Mental Health Commissioner Ivan Frkovic told the hearing that on the flipside of Queensland’s “measured and appropriate” public health responses to the pandemic were “whole of life and whole of population mental health wellbeing impacts”.

Frkovic said there had been a surge in people reaching out for mental health treatments since pandemic restrictions kicked in last March.

He said this was shown by Commonwealth schemes recording a 15 per cent rise in mental health services and a 5.9 per cent increase in mental health-related prescriptions.

Frkovic said between last March and August, ambulance call outs for mental health incidents rose 20 per cent and suicidal ideations in emergency department patients had increased 11 per cent.

Police had also reported “heightened levels of psychological distress in their callouts with more people requiring mental health interventions,” he said.

He said alcohol abuse counselling services had seen a 54 per cent increase in calls between last March and June.

– ABC / Josh Robertson and Stephanie Zillman

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