Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson. Picture: Tony Martin
Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson. Picture: Tony Martin

CHO has ‘questions to answer’ over Mackay funeral: Mayor

MACKAY Mayor Greg Williamson has questioned a decision that allowed up to 80 people to attend a funeral of an indigenous elder in Mackay yesterday.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young granted the exemption, which allowed 80 people at the funeral.

Cr Williamson said he was “gobsmacked” to learn 48 hours prior to the funeral that the exemption had been issued.

He said Mackay Regional Council was unable to overturn the decision.

“The CHO has a lot of questions to answer here,” Cr Williamson said.

“There was a huge expenditure of public resources to ensure we had a cordon around this event and ensure people who travelled to this funeral were triaged.

“Mackay Hospital and Health Service did a lot of contact tracing on the people who attended who were not local.”

Social distancing measures were put in place and the local public health unit rang all potential attendees Thursday morning to see if any were sick.

Dr Young said a lot of work had been undertaken, with some attendees remaining in their cars.

Dr Young said normally a funeral, like the one in Mackay Thursday morning, would have expected “many, many hundreds if not thousands” to attend.

“This is a very significant elder for that community who has died,” she said.

Dr Young said having to make decisions about how many people could attend a funeral had been particularly hard.

The Daily Mercury understands at least 12 public servants – six police officers and six health service staff – were tasked to funeral.

Cr Williamson said although the funeral went ahead without issue, the council should not be expected to comply with future requests of that nature.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young was in Mackay last week. Picture: Tony Martin
Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young was in Mackay last week. Picture: Tony Martin

“It is a huge expense of resources from Queensland Police Service and the public health sector simply because someone made that decision in Brisbane without permission from up here,” he said.

Cr Williamson thanked the man’s family for their co-operation throughout the process.

Dr Young responded to the claims, saying, “Our thoughts are with those who have lost a loved one during this unprecedented time.

“We absolutely understand and sympathise that this is a very difficult time to navigate.

“People should be able to mourn the passing of their loved ones according to the customs and traditions of their culture, and sometimes this means larger funerals.

“Despite any exemption on numbers, the appropriate social distancing is still expected at these events, and we had more than a dozen special measures in place to reduce the likelihood of any spread.

“The ability to grant exemptions on the number of mourners at particular funerals allows us to demonstrate cultural sensitivity and respect, which is the only appropriate response.”

It is understood Dr Young has granted exemptions for a number of funerals.

Mirani MP Stephen Andrew described the man as a “nice bloke” and “decent fella”.

“He looked after a lot of the children around the place and passed on cultural information,” Mr Andrew said.