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Responding to COVID-19

Overview

The first half of 2020 has been dominated by the far reaching and unprecedented impacts of COVID-19.

Like many other states and countries globally, our early efforts centred on slowing the spread of the virus whilst still keeping Queensland moving, ensuring our communities could access essential goods and services. Towards the end of the 2019–20 year, we turned our mind to the future and the role our department will play in supporting Queensland’s economic recovery.

As an organisation, it was also important for us to protect the health and wellbeing of our own employees. A significant internal response meant we could quickly mobilise the part of our workforce who could work remotely and adapt our processes to ensure the safety of frontline employees.

Slowing the spread

Border restrictions (land and sea)

Following the introduction of COVID-19 border restrictions in Queensland, RoadTek and Program Delivery and Operations teams worked swiftly with the Queensland Police Service (QPS) to set up border crossing checkpoints throughout the state.

Once established, 133 Transport Inspectors from Customer Services Branch (CSB) were deployed across Queensland to provide critical support to the QPS, directing traffic and monitoring checkpoints while police stopped and spoke with road users.

Inspectors worked in Camooweal/Mount Isa, on the highway between Boulia to Birdsville, Goondiwindi, Wallangarra, Stanthorpe, Killarney, Texas, and on the M1.

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) played an integral role in protecting Queensland’s borders. Marine Officers worked closely with the QPS (Water Police) to monitor sea facing borders, conducting 24/7 sea patrols of remote Indigenous communities to support the health and safety of residents.

Pedestrian crossings

As part of the department's work to slow the spread of COVID-19, the teams in Infrastructure Management and Delivery Division (Program Delivery and Operations, RoadTek and Engineering and Technology) introduced temporary changes to the operation of pedestrian crossings throughout Queensland, aimed at reducing the need for pedestrians to touch the button at traffic lights.

Thanks to their efforts, since March 2020 pedestrian crossings at 128 intersections have been automated during times of heavy demand. 

To inform pedestrians of this change, stickers were placed above the pedestrian button at these crossings advising the times during which the automated control operates.  

Elbow bump and wash stickers were also installed to remind pedestrians to press the button with their elbow rather than their hand, and to practise good hand hygiene. A total of 4092 elbow bump and wash stickers were installed on 366 intersections throughout Queensland.

Practical driving tests (suspension and recommencement)

To support the safety of Queenslanders and employees, the department suspended practical driving tests for three months. This resulted in the cancellation of 1005 heavy vehicle and 7625 light vehicle tests.

During the suspension period, Driving Examiners (DEs) were assigned alternative duties to support customer flow management, process customer transactions and assist customers through calls and web chat. For many DEs it was a positive opportunity to upskill, meet new people and learn more about the CSB. 

On 15 June, driver testing recommenced with an immediate demand of more than 30,000 tests. To manage this in a fair way, CSB prioritised customers who had their driving test cancelled due to the temporary suspension and those who required their test for essential purposes (e.g. work, medical reasons). New measures were put in place to protect examiners and learner drivers. These included mandatory screening questions, vehicle cleaning requirements and reinforcement of general health and hygiene measures.

At the time, the online booking system did not support prioritisation, so CSB worked quickly to launch a new phone booking system in time for the recommencement of testing. Using the new system, Customer Service Centre staff proactively contacted priority customers via email, SMS or phone to re-book their tests.

Supporting elderly drivers in the community

To support senior Queenslanders to stay at home and reduce their exposure to COVID-19, CSB introduced temporary changes to medical certificate requirements for drivers 75 and over.

Introduced on 10 April 2020, the changes:

  • allowed customers with a medical condition recorded on their licence to apply to extend the validity of their current medical certificate for six months
  • allowed drivers 75 and over with no medical condition recorded on their licence to continue to drive on their expired medical certificate, providing there was no change to their medical fitness to drive
  • permitted drivers who had recently turned 75 to drive without a valid medical certificate without penalty during the COVID-19 period (previously an offence).

More than 74,000 senior Queenslanders were contacted via email or post to advise them of these changes. Appreciative of being informed of the changes, many drivers submitted positive feedback on their experience.

TransLink public transport response

COVID-19 restrictions left many Queenslanders hesitant about travelling on public transport. As part of our early response to COVID-19, TransLink introduced a series of precautionary measures to keep customers and frontline employees safe. These included: 

  • no longer accepting cash for paper ticket purchases or go card top-ups on-board or at ticket offices
  • encouraging passengers to enter and exit via the rear door on buses
  • restricting front row seats onboard buses
  • training Queensland Customer Service Officers to adapt to other duties, such as cleaning
  • provided additional cleaning and sanitisation of public transport, including the NGR fleet.
  • providing a dedicated space for staff.

As restrictions eased, and more people recommenced travel on the network, TransLink developed the COVID-safe public transport plan and launched a campaign to educate the public on healthy travel tips and ways they could use public transport safely.

Messages included:

  • Leave a gap - Maintain social distancing as much as possible while at stations, stops and on-board.
  • Adjust your travel - Travel outside of peak times and use active transport, like cycling or walking, where you can.
  • Keep it clean - We’ve increased cleaning across the network and all SEQ services are cashless to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Help us by staying home if you are unwell and maintaining good hand hygiene, as per Queensland Health's advice.

Our workforce

Business Continuity Plans activation

In line with advice from the Public Service Commission and Queensland Health, the department activated its Business Continuity Plans in April which saw 44 per cent of the workforce transition to remote working. 

The department worked quickly to adapt business operations, increase technological capability, and establish processes to support staff in the lead up to, and during the transition period.   

Remote access connections

To ensure continued service provision to Queenslanders, Information Technology Branch (ITB) moved quickly to increase the department’s technological capability. 

New remote access solutions were made available, and remote access connections were increased by 733 per cent, enabling remote working employees to continue critical customer service functions. 

To support employees throughout this transition, ITB delivered eight virtual information sessions and two live Q&A events, attended by more than 1000 employees. 

OneTMR collaboration ensures a great customer experience

Following the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions, many Queenslanders turned to our Customer Contact Centre for phone-based support instead of visiting a Customer Service Centre.

To support additional call-taking and respond to the changing needs of Queenslanders, CSB transitioned 40 regional Customer Service Officers from face-to-face duties to remote call-taking. The transition was supported by a fast-tracked online call centre training module, jointly developed by ITB and CSB. The two branches also worked together to establish a cloud contact centre licensing solution which enabled customer calls to be taken from any location.

Crisis communication

Communication formed an integral part of the department's COVID-19 response, keeping Queenslanders, industry partners, and employees updated on operational changes, together with the latest developments and health advice.

The Director-General issued whole-of-department staff messages, weekly video updates and a Q&A channel, allowing employees the opportunity to submit a question on the COVID-19 response for direct reply from the Director-General. A dedicated COVID-19 intranet page was also created, providing a single, central source of COVID-19 information. 

Industry partners were kept up to date through the department’s TMR Network News, the department’s LinkedIn page and online industry engagement events.  

Public transport updates and critical operational changes were communicated to Queenslanders through the department and TransLink’s social media channels, websites and public campaigns. Direct contact and targeted marketing were also used to inform specific customer groups of operational changes.    

Feedback from Queenslanders, industry partners, and employees on the department’s communications has been extremely positive, with many people appreciative of the tailored, frequent and engaging approach taken to communicate information.

Recognising the importance of frontline employees

Throughout COVID-19, the department continued to provide frontline, customer-facing services to support industry and keep Queenslanders moving. Activities that could not be performed remotely included public transport, infrastructure works, maritime operations, monitoring border checkpoints and services through our Customer Service Centres.  

To support the ongoing safety of employees in customer-facing roles, the department introduced safety measures on public transport, at project sites and in Customer Service Centres. The Director-General also used his whole-of-department messages to thank and recognise frontline teams for their hard work in supporting Queenslanders and industry throughout COVID-19. 

Home-based learning arrangements and working flexibility

Following the Queensland Government’s announcement regarding the transition to home-based learning for school students, the department provided employees of school-age children a range of options to support their work and parenting commitments. 

These included working across a spread of hours (6am to 10pm, Monday to Friday), offering part-time and flexible working arrangements and supporting employees to take leave to help manage their caring responsibilities.  

Employees were encouraged to speak with their manager to discuss their personal circumstances and plan an appropriate course of action. 

Supporting employees

The activation of the department’s Business Continuity Plans and move to remote working for those who could was an important step to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Queensland. However, the significant change and added pressure of the situation meant mental health was a key consideration for the department.

To support the safety and mental wellbeing of staff during this time, the department actively promoted and communicated information and resources on mental health and domestic and family violence support through Director-General messages and other internal communication channels. Employees were encouraged to utilise the department’s Employee Assistance Provider, Benestar, and speak with a trusted colleague if they were struggling.

Supporting Queenslanders

Due to the unprecedented economic impacts felt across several industries, COVID-19 left many Queenslanders without income. 

For example, the department was pleased to support Djalah Davies-Boulton, a Rockhampton local, who lost her job as a chef following the closure of her restaurant. 

As part of a labour hire recruitment process, Djalah secured employment with RoadTek as a Construction Worker, performing assessments and inspections of rest areas in Rockhampton. 

This was a great outcome for both the department and Djalah, and a testament to Djalah’s resilience and perseverance in re-skilling to gain employment in a new industry.

Recovery Taskforce in DPC

Early in the Queensland Government’s COVID-19 response, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC) established the COVID-19 Crisis Response and Recovery Taskforce to support and provide advice to agencies regarding COVID-19 communication. 

Communication and stakeholder engagement professionals from the department were seconded to the DPC to participate in the taskforce and share their expertise in communication and stakeholder engagement. 

Ready Reserves

Ready Reserves played a critical role in Queensland’s COVID-19 response, supporting vulnerable Queenslanders to self-isolate in their homes or, for returning travellers, in hotels. 

To support this important work, the department supplied two fleet vehicles to the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors for Ready Reserves for their outreach visits to Queenslanders in mandatory hotel quarantine in Brisbane. 

As part of the department's Ready Reserves response, 31 employees were deployed to assist agencies to undertake COVID-19 related tasks such as contact tracing and issuing self-isolation notices to Queenslanders.

Special leave provisions and directive

To support the health and wellbeing of department employees throughout COVID-19, including the potential need to take leave, the department actively communicated information to its workforce about relevant leave provisions and arrangements.

Early in the department’s COVID-19 response, information on the Special Leave (Directive 05/17) was communicated to staff, including guidance on applicable leave provisions if employees were required to self-isolate or take leave to care for a child unable to attend their education facility. 

Later in May, the department shared information about the Employee Arrangements in the Event of a Health Pandemic (Directive 01/20). Developed by the Public Service Commission and Office of Industrial Relations, the directive advised the specific employment conditions applicable to public service employees in the event their work arrangements were disrupted due to a health pandemic, such as COVID-19. As part of this communication, information on Special Pandemic Leave and Special Leave was also shared. 

Keeping Queensland moving

Easing financial pressures for Queenslanders

Following the introduction of COVID-19 travel restrictions, many Queenslanders were using their vehicle less due to being unable to undertake non-essential travel. In response, and to help Queenslanders reduce the cost of running their vehicle, we provided customers the temporary option of cancelling their vehicle registration and waived vehicle cancellation fees. This resulted in a cost saving of $134.35 for light vehicle and $227 for heavy vehicle owners.

During the temporary suspension period of practical driving tests, and for an additional three months after testing resumed, we waived the learner licence renewal fee ($175.80), acknowledging that some learner licence holders would need to renew their licence in order to take a practical driving test in the future.

Supporting property tenants

The economic impact of COVID-19 left many department commercial property tenants without income, or with reduced income, causing concern about their ability to make rent payments. To support the 1660 tenants to remain in their properties, the Strategic Property Management (SPM) team within Policy, Planning and Investment Division worked hard to:

  • provide rent relief to tenants for six months (1 April - 30 September 2020) as part of the Queensland Government's $4 billion economic relief package
  • defer rental invoice and mooring regulatory fees for tenants or commercial operators in state-managed boat harbours
  • support Queensland's four port government-owned corporations (Port of Townsville Limited, Far North Queensland Ports Corporation, North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation and Gladstone Ports Corporation) to provide commercial tenant rent relief
  • ensure commercial tenants pass on relevant rent relief to sub-tenants from their leased area during the six-month rent relief period.

Regional transport providers

The introduction of social distancing measures and non-essential travel restrictions in Queensland resulted in a significant drop in regional transport passenger numbers, leaving many transport operators unable to afford the running costs of their service. The department played an important role in supporting critical transport connections and, where needed, intervening to ensure access to essential goods and services for regional communities could continue, which was particularly important for regional air routes which may be the only transport option for some remote locations.

In April 2020, the Government provided $54.5 million through the Transport Essentials Package, which included funding for regional air, bus and ferry services to continue operation during COVID-19. 

The package also allowed for the waiver of licence and vehicle (light and heavy) registration cancellation fees, learner licence renewal fees, and extended licence terms for taxi, limousine and rideshare operators.

Personalised transport industry support

To support the taxi and limousine industry through the economic impacts of COVID-19, the Queensland Government provided $23 million in financial assistance to ensure their continued operation throughout COVID-19.

The taxi and limousine industry play a key role in keeping people moving across the state, providing transport for Queenslanders to get to work, buy food or medical supplies, and attend essential appointments. The financial support helped taxi and limousine providers cover their ongoing operating costs through one-off lump sum payments.

In addition, several licence and vehicle registration cancellation fees were waived, and extensions granted for licence renewals and the refund policy for holders of booked hire service licences.

Maritime Safety Queensland

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ), the state's maritime safety regulator, played a pivotal role monitoring sea facing borders and the management of potential infection risk posed by the movement of freight through Queensland's ports system and vessels along the Queensland coastline.

Since 30 January 2020, MSQ has enacted a high level of maritime-related COVID-19 precautionary measures, with respect to quarantine arrangements for the protection of seafarers, local communities, and sustainability of the maritime industry. 

MSQ partnered with the maritime industry to develop a clear protocol for dealing with any potential or realised COVID-19 outbreak on ships. 

The measures, which included processes for the movement of essential personnel in FNQ, medical removals, and crew transfers on international shipping, ensured the critical facilitation of Queensland’s seaborne trade by minimising the effect of a potential infection on trading ships through Queensland ports.

By working collaboratively with Queensland Health, State Disaster Coordination Group, Federal agencies, and using enhanced Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) and Reef VTS processes and reporting, MSQ efforts to date have resulted in Queensland successfully preventing COVID-19 entry through Queensland ports, or infection to Australia’s maritime personnel.

MSQ Marine Officers have been prominent in conducting boat ramp and on water patrols around the state in conjunction with our enforcement partners to ensure that Public Health directions were followed by recreational boaties and border restrictions were adhered to. 

Freight

Freight exempt from border restrictions

Our freight, transport and agriculture industries were integral in Queensland’s COVID-19 response, connecting Queenslanders to essential goods and services. To support the ongoing operation of these industries, the Queensland Government determined that freight was exempt from the state’s border restrictions, allowing freight vehicles to pass efficiently through border checkpoints and enter restricted areas. 

Recommencement of heavy vehicle testing

As part of our planning for the recommencement of practical driving tests, following the temporary suspension period, the department resumed heavy vehicle tests prior to light vehicles to support the continued operation of Queensland’s freight, transport and agriculture industries. Heavy vehicle testing resumed on 25 May 2020 in certain locations across Queensland, following a thorough review and advice from Queensland Health.

Engagement across state and local government

The Roads and Transport Recovery Group (RTRG) played a critical role in ensuring continued operation of Queensland’s transport network throughout COVID-19. Chaired by Director-General Neil Scales, the RTRG was vital in minimising the impacts of COVID-19 on road, rail, aviation and maritime transport networks, enabling the efficient and on-time delivery of essential goods and services to Queenslanders and regional communities. Each fortnight, the Director-General met with RTRG members to discuss these matters and provide advice to the whole-of-government Economic Functional Recovery Group (EFRG).     

Managed by the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, the EFRG was established to assist local government, business and industry implement response actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Amanda Yeates, Deputy Director-General, Infrastructure Management and Delivery was the department’s representative for the EFRG.

Changes to traffic management workers' training and accreditation 

To support the continued operation of traffic management workers and organisations during Queensland’s COVID-19 response, the department made temporary changes to traffic management training and accreditation requirements. These included:

  • transitioning face-to-face accreditation renewal training to online
  • undertaking risk assessments for all classroom training for new workers to the industry
  • extending the practical experience deadline for trainee Traffic Controllers
  • extending existing Traffic Management Implementation accreditations
  • suspending the need for Traffic Controllers to undertake renewal training.

As these changes were made, the department actively contacted traffic management and registered training organisations to communicate these updates. 

The department also postponed the adoption of the Austroads Guide to Temporary Traffic Management (AGTTM) until early-2021 to reduce pressure on the industry. The adoption of the AGTTM in Queensland, originally planned for August 2020, will be postponed to January 2021. The department will continue to monitor the evolving priorities for industry and community and will work with our partners to support transition to the harmonised arrangements.

Looking ahead - stimulus and accelerated works

Continued delivery of QTRIP

The department's focus has firmly remained on the continued delivery of QTRIP throughout Queensland’s COVID-19 response.  This commitment was demonstrated as the department ensured infrastructure projects could safely continue, with COVID Safe plans in place, enabling the department to deliver $273 million more than the published program.

QTRIP is critically important to the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19, providing a much-needed employment lifeline to Queenslanders through the delivery of road infrastructure projects. Throughout COVID-19, QTRIP has kept Queenslanders moving, in jobs, and supported the freight industry in the provision of essential goods and services to people and communities. The projects currently underway and in the forward plan will be fundamental to facilitating Queensland and Australia’s ongoing economic recovery in the years to come. 

Roads stimulus packages pave the way for recovery

To address the economic impacts of COVID-19, and map a path to the state’s economic recovery, the Queensland Government introduced the Queensland Economic Recovery Strategy: Unite and Recover for Queensland Jobs

The strategy outlines the guiding principles for how the government will get Queenslanders back to work, with a focus on three key priorities – Building Vital Infrastructure; Strengthening Queensland’s Industries; and Enabling Future Growth.

Importantly, the strategy sets a solid commitment to maintaining infrastructure investment through the Queensland Transport and Roads Investment Program (QTRIP) and, most notably for the transport industry, a $400 million roads stimulus package. The package includes $200 million in funding to increase resilience, widen and seal key freight routes across the state, and upgrade older bridges and culverts. The remaining funding will be allocated to a range of projects across the state, particularly in regional areas. 

An additional $415 million package to deliver shovel-ready infrastructure projects was announced in June 2020. The package, joint-funded by the Australian and Queensland governments, will support approximately 670 direct jobs with a focus on fast tracking priority upgrades including the Burke and Gregory Developmental roads as well as smaller works right across the regional network to improve safety, accessibility, and flood immunity.