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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Eden Gillespie

Greens and LNP in rare agreement over Queensland government’s pandemic powers

Person receiving a Covid test at a drive-through testing site in Brisbane
Queensland Labor proposes to extend the powers of the chief health officer to issue detention orders and public health directions imposing mandatory quarantine, social distancing and movement restrictions. Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP

The Palaszczuk government’s attempt to extend Covid-19 emergency powers by another six months has been met with fierce opposition from parties across the political divide.

The Greens and Liberal National party have both called for greater transparency and oversight over the state’s pandemic legislation, in rare agreement.

Labor has proposed to extend the powers of the chief health officer to issue detention orders and public health directions imposing mandatory quarantine, social distancing and movement restrictions.

The government’s numbers in parliament mean the bill is likely to be pushed through in its current form, extending the legislation until the end of October.

But the LNP has called for the government to be given until 31 May to map out future restrictions, as well as the establishment of a bipartisan committee to overseeing the extension of powers. It has also called for health advice informing the decision to be released to the public.

The Greens will also put forward a series of amendments this week requesting health advice be made public, the ability for public health directions to be disallowed by parliament and an assessment of human rights implications to be provided.

The shadow health minister, Ros Bates, described the provisions contained in the bill as “extraordinary” during the second reading of the bill on Tuesday, and said they give unprecedented power to the government, with “little or no oversight”.

“It is time for us to look to the future,” Bates said.

“It is now the responsibility of the government to provide a step-by-step roadmap, grounded in expert advice that shows Queenslanders the path out of this pandemic.”

Greens MPs Amy MacMahon and Michael Berkman said they would abstain from voting on the bill if amendments were not passed to make it “accountable, transparent and in line with Queensland human rights law”.

“The Human Rights Commission doesn’t support the extension of emergency powers, so neither can the Queensland Greens,” MacMahon said.

“A robust pandemic response relies on the trust of everyday people – a transparent and accountable government is needed to maintain that trust.”

Earlier this month, Queensland Human Rights Commissioner, Scott McDougall, recommended the government replace the temporary measures with “fit-for-purpose, pandemic legislation” that are “transparent, accountable and more compatible with human rights”.

He said the government should “follow the lead” of Victoria and the ACT on the legislation and allow for parliamentary oversight of the decision to grant emergency powers.

Meanwhile, Katter’s Australian party will take its opposition to the government’s Covid restrictions one step further this week by requesting the Public Health Act 2005 be changed to remove the chief health officer’s ability to impose vaccine mandates.

“We are hopeful of gaining support from Labor, the LNP and the crossbench for the amendment we are putting forward,” a spokesperson for Robbie Katter’s office said.

The party will also vote against the public health bill, with member for Hill, Shane Knuth, claiming the extension of emergency powers “makes no sense” now that almost 92% of Queenslanders have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, said the emergency powers were “critical” for a swift and effective response towards health issues that arise during the pandemic.

She said within the next six months, a combination of influenza and Covid-19 cases will put increasing pressure on the health system.

“It is clear we are on the cusp of a second wave,” D’Ath said.

“There may be a point in the future where restrictions are not required at all. But we are not there yet.

“It would be reckless to withdraw all the measures on one occasion as soon as we entered this wave.”

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