Outback residents allegedly harassing gas workers
QUILPIE Shire mayor Stuart Mackenzie has called for residents to show some compassion during the COVID-19 pandemic, after receiving troubling reports of residents in the region harassing fly-in-fly-out workers from resources company Santos
The locals in question reportedly went to extreme lengths to drive a group of itinerant gas workers away from their area of the shire, for fear the workers would spread coronavirus.
It is a sentiment which Councillor Mackenzie believes is 'an over-reaction' to outsiders during these troubling times.
"There have been a few situations already, and not just in this shire - I have heard of others as well," Cr Mackenzie said.
"While I can understand that there is a fear about the virus getting out, there has been an over-reaction, and it has affected the companies like Santos who have been here for about 60 years and whose workers are an integral part of the community and our economy."
Without a tourist trade this year, most accommodation and hospitality business are unsurprisingly struggling during the pandemic.
Cr Mackenzie said the exit of the FIFO workers is only adding to the impact.
"They were told (by locals) not to go to certain places in the shire, and they did the right thing by telling employees and contractors not to go there," he said.
"But that has actually really impacted out local businesses financially, because they pulled out of staying in the motels."
The whole situation has prompted Cr Mackenzie to call for greater respect from his constituents.
He said those whose jobs are largely unaffected by COVID-19 should step in to the shoes of someone who has lost their job, or is at risk of losing it.
"There are people who had safe jobs - they weren't going to lose their jobs or see a decrease in their pay - but were virtually demanding other businesses to shut and stop bringing in people because of the virus, knowing that person is going to have no job and no income at all," he said.
"You have got to be very careful and very thoughtful about the other person and the position they are in before telling other people what they should do in these circumstances.
"Everyone is aware of the risk and is doing the right thing; people who have to come out here because they have jobs to do are isolating, and not going in to public places or anything."
In response to the alleged incidents, Santos told the Western Times it has made big changes to personnel, not only in the Quilpie district, but across Queensland.
A spokesman said there were strict protocols in place to stop the virus being transmitted by its workers, and while it had reportedly pulled out of local accommodation, it is still contributing to small town economies.
"We are prioritising the health and wellbeing of our own people and the communities where we operate to help slow the spread of COVID-19," he said.
"We have minimised the number of workers travelling to our workplaces from other regions or states, implemented health self-declarations for anyone coming on site, banned non-essential travel or people working on site, implemented temperature checks, strict social distancing protocols and increased cleaning and hygiene requirements.
"As much as possible, we are continuing to buy locally and support local businesses, but the current restrictions mean that less of our people are visiting local cafes and shops in small settlements in the southwest, and many people are looking forward to increased business when restrictions are lifted."
No cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the South West Hospital and Health Service, which encompasses Quilpie Hospital; the nearest case has been recorded about 620km away in Miles, part of the Darling Downs Health Service.