Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
COVID-19: International Travel
This important motion was actually drafted nearly six months ago, recognising the failure of a nation that shut down its international borders early only to see so much of that early intervention unravelled by very, very slow, tardy hotel quarantine that has cost us most of our international student sector, those on skilled visas and, of course, almost all of our inbound tourism. Before we get the guns out—and this is particularly a message to my friend the member for Bruce—this is not a partisan motion. This looks purely at the activities of all levels of government, state and federal, and all jurisdictions.
Back in March, I noted publicly on Twitter that we as a state could get the first wave of coronavirus under control within three to four weeks, and I was a couple of days out. At that point, on 25 April last year, we should have been well on the way to developing an industrialised level of hotel quarantine that could get our economy back on track. It's so tragic that 12 months on that still hasn't happened—hence today's motion looking at the massive economic costs, the loss of skilled workers that we so badly need not only on our farms but in our industries, the annihilation of our inbound international education and, finally, the fact that we just need to get real and understand that hotel quarantine and international movement is inevitably going to have to come back while we manage COVID, and we have to be skilled enough to be able to do it.
I note the current microscopic levels of hotel quarantine in the major states and New South Wales bearing almost 50 per cent of the burden. Before I get too partisan, I don't care who runs that state; having 3,000 inbound per week is an amazing effort. Victoria is at 1,100; they've got some making up to do, and they're not doing it. There are 1,000 in Queensland, having come up from 800. South Australia is at 530. WA has a Premier seeking re-election. I say to the Premier of WA: what a pea hearted effort that your state has done nothing to pick up the slack for a Labor colleague who fell over in Victoria. You are taking in just 512 people per week. It's unbelievably pea hearted in both courage and compassion to be making such an invidiously simple effort at letting people back in. That is simply not enough to run any kind of economy. Cruising on your mineral wealth is one thing; not standing up as part of a national cabinet is another.
Let's turn to Queensland. In the Hotel Grand Chancellor outbreak, we had a couple of infections that came from two hotel rooms on opposite sides of a non-CCTV-monitored corridor, and then an outbreak from one of that hotel's workers. People were talking about the fruitcake possibility of it moving through the air conditioning, as if it goes from one room, across the corridor, and into that room and nowhere else. Of course, after a month's police investigation in Queensland, that was ruled out. It was dirty hands and gloves, and touching handles. It raises the question: are we paying our workers sufficiently to be properly infection controlled and trained? And the answer is we haven't seen any form of increase in infection-control training in the states where we need it most. It shows a general lack of political will to increase hotel quarantine. Once it's under control and there's no community spread, of course you need to be increasing your hotel quarantine numbers week by week, nudging those up to meet the global demand—because those people, 300,000 of them, eventually citizens, want to come home.
I'll criticise my own government. We haven't been clear enough in identifying those who need to come back on compassionate grounds, we've left too much to self-assessment and we've left too many people with genuine grounds stuck overseas, while others who are pulling the passport out from under the mattress after 12 months and want to come back and see family make up their story and get in. That's not good enough either. This is an all-of-party, all-of-government criticism.
But, I tell you what, when we review our performance, one year and five years from today, we'll look back at these brain-fades—like setting up a Toowoomba hotel quarantine system in the middle of nowhere, simply because one of your workers had dirty gloves and suddenly you're forcing it on Toowoomba. The Premier of Queensland genuinely let down the public, particularly the people of Toowoomba, by not coming up with a clear, detailed proposition for how they do it. You don't need to be spooked by hotel quarantine; you're only using, what, 20 hotels out of the 1,900 hotels there are in Queensland. We've got 30 million to 50 million hotel nights a year up there in Queensland. We can do so much better as a state. We can run our economy so much better.
The Mint can't print enough money to make up for this economic damage from states of all colours. And I do want to congratulate the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. There's a Labor leader who's actually got some guts and is showing some heart and some ticker with Howard Springs. So, other states, lift your game! South Australia tried; they got knocked down unfairly because of international students. Every state can do better, starting this week.