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Second government watchdog airs concerns about hotel quarantine

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The Queensland Ombudsman has revealed he raised concerns with Queensland Health over its handling of border restrictions and quarantine, saying most of the COVID-related complaints he received over the past year were directed at the department.

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Anthony Reilly, who heads the office responsible for investigating complaints against government agencies, said he approached the department after an increasing number of people complain about delays in decision making.

These complaints grew to a peak of 30 a month in September last year before the Ombudsman approached the department to improve its systems.

“Queensland Health officers actively engaged with us to find ways to improve their systems,” Reilly said in his annual report tabled in state parliament.

The office of the Queensland Ombudsman is the second agency to go public with concerns about the way health bureaucrats have handled pandemic-related policies such as hotel quarantine.

The state’s Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall last week raised concerns about the “blanket approach” the department had used in dealing with people seeking hotel quarantine exemptions.

In his report, Reilly accepted that for a public emergency response to be effective government agencies needed broad powers “at the expense of individual liberties and democratic norms”.

“An emergency response environment can, however, increase the risk of poor decision-making as systems come under pressure, and openness and transparency are perceived as barriers to action,” he wrote.

“As observed by the Auditor-General in his report on the Queensland Government response to COVID-19, ‘it is critical that government-led responses are supported by sound controls to manage any additional risks, and effective governance and leadership must continue’ .”

He said that off the 266 complaints connected to the COVID-19 pandemic that his office received in the 2020-21 year, 178 of them were directed at Queensland Health.

However, he said these represented just 3.8 per cent of all complaints to the Ombudsman over the year.

“Considered in this light, the number of pandemic related complaints is very small – particularly given the unprecedented, broad and deep impact across the community of pandemic related administrative actions,” he said.

While quarantine and border controls dominated pandemic-related complaints in the early part of the year, by April this year more general complaints about issues such as mask mandates had increased.

 

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