Queensland’s ‘voice of the bush’ Robbie Katter says the regions are willing to chip in and help solve the state’s quarantine drama, but fears moving returning travellers to mining camps greatly risks vulnerable communities.
The Katter Australian Party leader said towns such as Cloncurry in the Sunshine State’s north west are under resourced and could be decimated by a coronavirus outbreak following Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s pitch to base quarantine sites at mining camps.
Ms Palaszczuk announced on Thursday she would take a proposal to the next national cabinet to use “a couple” of the isolated camps in regional and rural Queensland to house returned travellers.
It follows a concerning cluster at a Brisbane city hotel quarantine facility where six people have contracted the same contagious strain of COVID-19, seemingly without a link.
Residents in remote communities tolerate an undersupply of vital health services but enjoy a safe distance from the threat of the cities – including the widespread transmission of the deadly pandemic, Mr Katter told NCA NewsWire.
“People will often live in a remote area because they’re protected from things like this virus, and they’ll put up with not having a doctor or vital public services,” he said.
“Those people put up with a lot living in a remote area to have that barrier away from the negative influence of the cities. And to have (quarantine responsibilities) then dumped and imposed on them, that’s a big thing.”
The Member for Traeger said Roma would be another concern if it were called on to host travellers and others in quarantine.
“Bloody hell that would be a bit tough on them,” Mr Katter said.
“They (the state government) would want to think hard about why they do it and not just, as usual, use the country towns as the whipping boys.”
Mr Katter said, however, that particularly remote mining sites would be ideal given the direct access to bitumen airstrips and modern accommodation facilities.
“If it’s 50-100 km or more away from a major town, then that makes a lot of sense,” he said. “But I would just be wary of those camps that are close to town.”
The comments come as senior federal politicians, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, questioned the pitch from the Queensland Premier, saying relocating facilities out of cities could jeopardise “health outcomes”.
Mr Birmingham queried the move, saying quarantine facilities needed to have access to medical services and testing facilities.
“That is why the health advice has driven us towards these city hotel locations that can be locked down, but are proximate to those types of health services and testing services that are so important to do it effectively,” he told Today on Friday.
“Let’s remember that in the vast majority of cases, these are about returning Australian citizens. So we want to do it in ways that show compassion to their circumstances, too.”
Mr McCormack said the state government would have to thoroughly assess regional facilities before they opened.
“The state government will look at risk assessments, look at their capability and provisions to be able to keep that stringent public health outcome as number one,” he said on Friday.
“The first order priority with COVID-19 is making sure we’ve got the right health outcomes.
“States are limited by their policing and their ability to make sure that quarantining is what it needs to be. That’s why when there was this virulent UK strain of the virus, quarantining was reduced by half.”
Mr McCormack added extra ADF personnel could be deployed to help Queensland.
“We’ll look at any request that comes in as we have done all the way through. There are 1,500 Australian Defence Force personnel working closely with state governments as we speak, to ensure that we get the right outcomes,” he said.