'Should the CHO’s pandemic powers increase?'
Jeannette Young is a wielder of unrestrained power, a tool of "totalitarianism" and a maker of stupid rules, according to a plethora of public submissions made to the parliament.
Queenslanders have been called on to have their say around the extraordinary powers entrusted to the state's Chief Health Officer as the parliament considers the government's plans to extend them to September. She's been widely credited with expertly shepherding Queensland through the COVID-19 pandemic, but not everyone is a fan of Dr Young.
The Chief Health Officer was handed sweeping powers to regulate people's behaviour - from mandating masks and hotel quarantine, to closing businesses and borders - in March last year to allow Queensland to respond to the emerging pandemic. The powers were bestowed in a late-night emergency sitting of parliament without the public debate that's now been invited.
A cursory browse through some of the 123 submissions that have streamed into the Health and Environment Committee gives an insight into how different parts of the community have been impacted, and how many are not happy their elected representatives have given over their power to an unelected representative.
Some argue the extension of powers isn't necessary with vaccines on the way and "the curve" well and truly flattened.
Others demand to know the government's end game, as one recounts being "marched like a criminal from the airport to quarantine" after a trip to NSW to care for his elderly mother.
"These type of powers should only be given to an elected minister who is then accountable to the parliament and the people of Queensland especially when freedom of movement and other human rights are being restricted or taken away such as locking up people against their will in quarantine," writes another - Brett Panting - who reflects a common view.
Robert Henderson prefers the "more sensible approach" taken by the NSW government.
The Queensland Council of Civil Liberties argues Dr Young has become an "unelected legislator" with powers that contradict the Human Rights Act to detain a person for an unlimited time and demands the parliament provide more cross-party oversight.
They say her power was on show when she decided to extend the 14-day "detention" of people staying at the Hotel Grand Chancellor during that cluster.
"While this order was subsequently rescinded it highlights the fact that the Chief Health Officer's powers are unrestrained," president Michael Cope writes.
"It is our view that detained individuals should have a right to challenge a decision to extend their detention beyond 14 days in the Magistrates Court and that if the Chief Health officer wanted to further extend the detention she would have to justify it to a Magistrate."
Rev Alexander Borodin of the Blessed Virgin of Vladimir Russian Orthodox Church Abroad at Rocklea says his congregation bear the scars of the Russian Revolution in which all aspects of their lives were controlled. They recognise "strong similarities" in the government control imposed on Queenslanders now, he writes. "In their historical experience, these government programs began at first slowly, based on ostensibly 'good' and justifiable social causes, but later, they build momentum and enter into a phase that is far from beneficial," Rev Borodin writes.
He complains that "just as under totalitarianism", Queenslanders are being asked to comply with a plethora of contradictory rules.
"One day, we are told that gathering in Churches in numbers above 50 is very dangerous, but soon after we are told that gathering for the State of Origin in numbers of 50,000 is completely fine," he says.
But Dr Young has won many fans in the medical community.
Australian Medical Association Queensland chief executive Dr Brett Dale writes to congratulate the government and support the extension of her powers.
"AMA Queensland recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and complacency still poses a significant risk to the Queensland community and this lesson was learnt from other large scale outbreaks," his submission says.
He says the AMAQ is optimistic restrictions will continue to lift with the planned vaccine rollout.
And she has other fans, including Liz Laurie who writes to "wholeheartedly give permission" for Dr Young to continue her work. "Definitely extend the powers. Dr Young has been amazing," echoes Michael Kiss. "In Jeannette, we trust!"
The Parliament is due to report its recommendations on extending her powers this Friday, February 12.
Originally published as Should the CHO's pandemic powers increase?