Queensland Premier’s Trip to Tokyo: Justified or Irresponsible?

by Sonia Hickey
Annastacia Palaszczuk

Last year, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made a reputation as one of the most controversial politicians in the country with her snap border closures and harsh restrictions during the first wave of the pandemic.

Now, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has Sydney in lockdown and everyone on tenterhooks, including those residing in Queensland, Ms Palaszczuk is headed to Tokyo in what many see as a classic political double-standard, and an ‘all care and no responsibility’ attitude, similar to the one demonstrated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison when he took a holiday to Hawaii while Australia was battling devastating bushfires in 2019.

Do as I say, not as I do

The trip to Japan is ostensibly to support Brisbane’s bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympic Games.

Many see the Queensland Premier’s trip as unnecessary, irresponsible and sending a bad message when so many Australians are restricted from even travelling interstate let alone internationally, with some even prevented from travelling outside their local government areas for work purposes.

But what has also stirred the ire of many is that Ms Palaszczuk was one of the premiers who pushed for international arrival numbers to be capped to limit the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

So, far from being ‘all in this together’ and all playing our part to limit transmission, the premier’s trip has been seen by many as a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

Aussies stranded

There are currently more than 30,000 Australians stranded overseas, desperate to return. And with numbers truncated, their efforts to come home will be made longer, and more difficult. Families and loved ones remain separated, which is emotionally draining at the best of times, but even more so at a time when the future remains so uncertain in so many ways.

A petition with 130,000 signatures was not enough to make the Queensland Premier rethink the trip, or stop to consider how the public feels about her going. Families of competing athletes are not even allowed to attend the games.

Hypocrisy

What’s more, the announcement of her intention to travel to Japan came only days after her Deputy Premier, Steven Miles, blasted travellers able to afford first and business class flights and private jets who he claimed were putting Queensland at risk of a coronavirus outbreak by skipping past Australia’s closed international borders for business meetings.

The Premier herself publicly stated the strain these travellers were placing on Queensland’s quarantine system.

Ironically, in defending her overseas trip, Ms Palaszczuk told media “the one thing that is standing out for the International Olympic Committee is the cooperation between national, state and local.”

Japan trip trumps emergency surgery

Most Australians would consider this statement laughable given the fact that Ms Palaszczuk carved out a particularly strong divide between New South Wales residents and Queenslanders last year when, under strict border controls many people in the far north of the state were denied access to Queensland for medical treatment.

A baby died when a mother who needed emergency surgery had to wait 16 hours for an exemption to travel into Queensland. She was flown to Sydney when the ‘exemption’ was too long in arriving, and doctors couldn’t save the unborn twin.

At the time, Ms Palaszczuk’s cold and uncaring response was that ‘Queensland hospitals were for Queenslanders only’, which prior to the pandemic had never been the case, particularly given that many of the towns in far north New South Wales are considered ‘regional’ and hospitals are not equipped with specialist care services and facilities.

How good is the footy!

At the same time as restricting access to New South Wales residents, she allowed the AFL players and WAGS into Queensland, attracting further criticism about ‘skewed priorities’ and lifted crowd numbers so that people could attend the State of Origin. Television coverage from the game had many concerned that physical distancing rules weren’t being adhered to.

A costly trip in a time of economic uncertainty

Ms Palaszczuk will be expected to be quarantined for 14 days after she returns home. Where she will do this, and who will foot the bill has not been disclosed.

Last year, she refused to pay a $30 million hotel quarantine bill presented to her by the New South Wales Government, despite her government signing a national agreement that bills for mandatory quarantine stays in hotels enforced on people travelling interstate during the pandemic would be split among states according to residency.  The Queensland Deputy Premier posted a video of himself ripping up the quarantine invoice to social media.

Politicians ‘dividing the nation’

Most Australians would attest to the fact that the nation’s response to COVID has been pretty confusing, with the Federal Government only responsible for ‘strategy’ and the state and territory leaders in charge of managing the health crisis in their own states.

The result has been a haphazard system of public health regulations which are different across each jurisdiction and no cohesive national system for contract tracing, despite now being in the second year of the pandemic battle.

A handful of sociologists have pointed out over the past several months that the political response to the coronavirus has been particularly divisive for the nation.

It has to be said that the country’s leaders have had a tough 18 months dealing with COVID-19, but so have Australians. Many are now seriously questioning whether the people we’ve elected are actually fit to lead. In this time of crisis politicians should be cooperating, and not only setting a strong example, but actually doing what they expect other ‘ordinary people’ to do when it comes to obeying the rules.

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Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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