Why is nobody talking about QLD's new emergency powers bill?

New legislation proposing a ‘step-down’ approach to the current emergency powers framework in Queensland, was introduced to Parliament on 1 September.

The Bill has been forwarded to the Health Committee for review by the 14th of October 2022. The new Bill seeks to replace the current emergency framework with a new set of “temporary and targeted powers”, which would allow the Chief Health Office to only issue public health directions across a few key areas. Those directions could only be issued if the CHO believed it was “reasonably necessary” to:

- respond to a “serious risk” to the public health system or community;
- give effect to a National Cabinet decision; or
- give effect to advice from national advisory bodies (eg. AHPPC).

Many people, I know, feel fairly strongly that this ongoing use of emergency powers in Queensland is unnecessary and that the whole lot should be allowed to expire on 31 October 2022 as they are supposed to. I tend to agree.

I also believe that such powers should ONLY be exercised by a Minister, who is a democratically elected representative of the people, who is ACCOUNTABLE to the people for all actions taken. The CHO is none of these things – neither elected OR accountable. There is also an issue with a few broadly worded phrases, like “serious risk” that have not been defined in the Bill – the meaning is left entirely up to CHO’s own discretion. I am also concerned with the Bill’s proposal to extend emergency power provisions at corrective services facilities for another year. Apart from that, I find the virtual silence on the introduction of the Bill, both in the mainstream media and elsewhere, very strange.

The Departmental Briefing Paper states:

“A CONFIDENTIAL CONSULTATION paper about the proposed changes to the Chief Health Officer’s powers .. was distributed to targeted stakeholders”

That sounds suspiciously like stakeholders consulted on the Bill are being prevented by the Government from discussing the contents of the Bill, either publicly or with their membership. If so, that’s disgraceful. This is a significant issue and there should be a wide-ranging and open public debate on how the State steps away from the ongoing state of emergency powers framework. We all saw the storm of controversy that erupted when The Australian revealed the shroud of secrecy governing the Queensland Government’s consultations regarding proposed new environmental laws.

Stakeholders were forced to sign an “unprecedented confidentiality deed before they were allowed to see proposed amendments”.

The Deed prevented stakeholders from discussing any of the proposals, either publicly or with members. I sincerely hope the same tactics weren’t used here.

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