By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard
There have been more seismic shifts in positions taken on quarantine here in Queensland in the last couple of weeks than at any time since the pandemic began.
First came confirmation the Federal Government would build a quarantine facility at Pinkenba beside the Brisbane airport, and that the state would run it.
At no point beforehand had the Queensland Government shown any appetite for running such a facility and for taking on the associated health and political risks.
For many, more surprising still was the announcement last week by Premier Palaszczuk that not only would they run quarantine facility in Toowoomba, but they’d go it alone, stumping up the funds to build it.
Clearly the political and economic calculus around quarantine has changed. And so it should and must.
Moving forward we will be dealing with travellers, from both overseas and interstate, presenting a wider range of COVID-19 risk depending on their vaccination status and the prevalence of the disease. So we’ll need more quarantine options to better match these risks.
Queensland has led the country with great success in allowing seasonal workers from low risk Pacific nations to complete quarantine on farm while they work. Across the ditch however, New Zealand has leap frogged the Sunshine State by putting in place quarantine free entry for these same workers. In a competitive recruitment market, we need to keep ahead of this game.
Along with more nuance, we still desperately need more quarantine capacity.
Increasing capacity will be critical for kick starting the Queensland economy, so reliant on agriculture, tourism and international education for its growth. So it’s worrying the state is talking about winding back hotel quarantine once the Toowoomba facility comes online. And it’s particularly concerning for many smaller growers unable to deliver quarantine on farm for whom hotel quarantine remains their only option.
Horticulture is still significantly short on labour, and while Growcom has received an assurance they’ll be more quarantine capacity for our workers from interstate and overseas, we continue to push for confirmation of numbers.
When asked, the Premier kept the door ajar if more facilities like Toowoomba could be set up around the state. If it means growers can plan for the next season with confidence, then she has our full support.