Sandy Bolton, MP for Noosa
The recovery that followed our floods highlighted the roles that each of us plays during and after disasters, as well as in all aspects of our lives. Back home after a particularly tough parliamentary session to start cleaning flood sludge from every crevice again, I reflected on this, and the incredible majority who work selflessly to create an incredible community through unity. and empathy. Then my thoughts turned to why a tiny minority seeks to mock and divide rather than encourage respectful discourse, and what role “perception” plays in this.
My fascination and love for community and all people in my early years grew into a commitment to improving our world through a better understanding of people and their perceptions and processes, including communications. It grew from my time in the Northern Territory, where remote living on a million acres with our First Nations peoples taught me a lot, including that my own perceptions were exactly that: mine, and not necessarily correct! To come to a resolution on any topic, we had to really empathize with each other to find common ground and a way to achieve a common goal. This is essential in a small community where you are interdependent on each other, leaving no room for grievances or divisions. If only we could bring those same values to Parliament.
After the recent process of inquiry and debate over the extension of the expiry of the Emergency Provisions Bill, as well as the subsequent misinformation and comments on social media, it is evident that there is a need to better understand our parliamentary systems, as well as read Hansard to check who voted and how!
If every vote for a bill were as simple as a yes or a no, or “YES or NO” as used in official documents, with no further consideration or explanation necessary, there would be fewer misunderstandings and room for politics! However, this is rare and the bill to extend emergency powers until October 31 is a good example of the importance of getting facts and knowing a bit more about our parliamentary processes.
In summary, this bill would give the government a continuation of unprecedented powers in the very different situation we face today from those under which they were first enacted when the Covid pandemic is arrival.
This comes at a time when the federal health minister has announced that Australia’s emergency pandemic biosecurity measures will not be renewed, and other states are removing all restrictions as part of the recovery phase. Combined with the continued lack of provision of medical or scientific rationale for the decisions and extension, nor address the concerns or recommendations of the QLD Human Rights Commissioner (QHRC) and others during the committee’s investigation on this bill, was very concerning.
The options available to MPs like me who agreed with the QHRC’s recommendations, including the need for independent scrutiny of government decisions and restrictions, were limited. With the government holding a clear majority, this bill was still destined to pass, regardless of opposing proposals. Amendments are an option used by opposition MPs to achieve better results in these circumstances. With respect to this specific bill, if successful, those powers would only have been extended until the next sitting in May instead of October. During this time, the government should provide the medical rationale for the extension, its plan or strategy for moving forward, and establish independent oversight. This would then have allowed MPs to consider this new information and vote again, opening up the possibility of a better outcome that would at least address or acknowledge the concerns of QHRC and the Queensland Law Society, as well as thousands of individual bidders.
For some, to infer that my support for these amendments was a vote in favor of the bill, was deliberately misleading and ignored the many efforts undertaken to mitigate the ongoing impacts on so many of our businesses, workers, families and our community.
As can be seen in my speech, I clearly stated the reasons for my opposition to the bill, Hansard recording that at second reading I was one of 5 MPs who voted against it, and at the third reading, one of 36. There should be no confusion about that! Also, no misunderstanding as to why I again denounced the failures of the committee system among the processes, which led to the committee recommending passage of the bill without addressing valid concerns. Remember that as a ‘unicameral’ parliament with no upper house, our committee system is a form of oversight that needs to function properly to serve the people of Queensland well, which it currently does not. Why? Because 50% of the committee can oppose, but with a chairman of the government using his casting vote, the bill can be sent to the House, with the only indication of who opposed from the declaration of reservation of a deputy.
Now, does a vote against the extension mean a lack of support to protect our vulnerable people? Quite the contrary, since we have the possibility at any time to meet again as Parliament and restore emergency powers if necessary, including virtually. However, as has been experienced over the past few months, the lack of response to requests for support for our financially and mentally vulnerable people who have gone unheeded is unacceptable, including 7 months of waiting to see a psychiatrist and the closure of businesses. There have been so many inconsistencies that I have spoken and written about with unanswered questions, which is not acceptable either. According to my speech, the only time I was ashamed of being an MP was when financially vulnerable residents were mandated for vaccinations, but as MPs who would be considered ‘high risk’ moving like we do, we weren’t. Additionally, we were given a raise at a time when others were losing their jobs, businesses, mental well-being and homes, which is shameful.
As I shared in Chamber. “To support this bill without amendments that ensure oversight, accountability, transparency, support for evidence-based decision-making and independent reviews of determinations is to support a form of autocracy instead of democracy – and we should never support that…”
For a more in-depth explanation of bills, inquiries and voting processes in the Queensland Parliament, including the extremely frustrating intricacies, go to www.sandybolton.com/noosa360
Finally, once again a deep gratitude to all those who saved, protected and assisted during the floods. Like so many whose homes have been flooded, your lovely help in getting us back to “normal”, including not laughing too hard at my efforts to dry our “candy”, or “clomp”, as well as to stumble, in my boot moon, reiterated why we love this community and its people so much.
Until next month, have a fabulous Easter and question everything, including Facebook posts! Keep your ’empathy’ tool and ‘fact checker’ handy as you engage in that important ‘respectful speech’ and make it especially enjoyable by doing it online or offline on a hot bun or a chocolate bilby/bunny! And don’t forget to call if you can’t find the answer?