PUBLIC servants have been told to "hide from view" or else "apologise" as Department of Agriculture services across Queensland are permanently slashed on the back of COVID-19 restrictions.
An internal document issued by the Queensland Government on August 4 says a review of DAF under COVID-19 restrictions had shown face-to-face service delivery was not necessary, as customers could be successfully served through phone and email.
"We have taken the lessons and opportunities of the past few months and reviewed our service delivery to better suit the needs of our customers," the Customer and Business Services document reads.
"Some sites will see reduced hours for face-to-face counter hours while others will transition to digital or phone service only."
The affected offices are: Bundaberg, Mackay, Boonah, Charleville, Charters Towers, Cloncurry, Dalby, Emerald, Gayndah, Goondiwindi, Gympie, Longreach, Maryborough, Roma, Hermitage, Kingaroy, Mareeba and Maroochy.
Farmers will be increasingly directed to use DAF's telephone service and digital service delivery systems.
"It is okay for you to have a chat (doesn't have to be through the locked door)," the document to DAF staff reads. "Explain that the counter is closed and advise them to call 132523."
DAF's four major sites in Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns will continue to open from Monday to Friday.
Opposition hits out
LNP Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the DAF offices provided vital face-to-face help to farmers, particularly on often complex drought assistance and biosecurity requirements.
"At a time when drought-stricken farmers are looking for more assistance from the government, Labor is slashing their services after a secret review," Ms Frecklington said.
"This is clearly a cost-cutting exercise.
"With two-thirds of Queensland in drought it is disgraceful that Labor is using COVID as an excuse to slash services to the bush."
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said although all DAF front counter services were suspended due to COVID-19 earlier this year, no DAF office was closing its doors and no Queensland public servants were losing their jobs.
Counter service had resumed in recent weeks, he said.
"Over that period we responded to more than 18,000 calls and 2200 emails, supporting the agricultural industry through new COVID-19 safety requirements and contributing to Queensland's overall COVID-19 effort," Mr Furner said.
"This process helped identify that some customer interactions could be more easily, efficiently and safely dealt with online or over the phone.
"All of these DAF offices will continue to provide critical support for our essential agricultural industries."
Mr Furner said is was disappointing that the LNP was trying to frighten Queenslanders into thinking DAF offices will be locked up.
"Queenslanders should never forget that the LNP sacked 600 public servants from Agriculture when they were in Government."
Smoke screen says AgForce
AgForce chief executive Michael Guerin said concerns about COVID were just a cover for this reduction in DAF regional office hours.
"This is the latest example of a long-running process to withdraw frontline agricultural services," Mr Guerin said.
"Over several decades, we have seen DAF all but eliminate the once-numerous and very much appreciated agribusiness extension officer.
"Now, instead of providing practical, on-farm assistance and support, the government relies on legislation and enforcement to achieve farm practice improvement."
Mr Guerin said more widely, it was an example of how regional services like healthcare and education had been gradually pared back over time.
"This incremental reduction in essential services, each of which may not seem like a big deal to the bureaucrats in Brisbane, has gutted many rural communities," he said.
"On a practical level, it forces many in the bush to travel farther for services once available locally - time away from farm and family."
The Queensland election will be held on October 31.