During estimates hearings on Thursday, Queensland Health director-general John Wakefield defended the cost, arguing the upgrade was necessary to deal with the challenges of working during the pandemic.
“I approved a renovation to combine two very, very small rooms into a single space to enhance the practicality of working and meeting arrangements, which had been seriously impacted because of the COVID restrictions and social-distancing requirements,” Dr Wakefield said.
“It compromised two tiny rooms – one office space of 11.5 square metres and one meeting room of 11.5 square metres.
“Under the social-distancing rules of one person per four square metres, really that rendered those rooms completely impractical because the maximum allocated number of people in there, it was really under three in each room.”
A car parking space is typically about 12 square metres.
Dr Wakefield said the rooms were a “nerve centre” for confidential COVID discussions.
“I can tell you that on many occasions I sat in that room and the sound-proofing was such that I could not think because of hearing what was going on next door,” he said.
“I made the decision, which I stand by, to maximise the practicality of that space by removing essentially a gyprock wall … and also inserting a television, which is used for presentations, which is used for video conferencing, a very small television, I might add.
“It has been used seven days a week over the past year in very extended hours with continuous meetings.”
Budget estimates documents also show the Health Department spent $765,514 for fit-out upgrades and TV replacements at 33 Charlotte Street in the 12 months to the end of June 2019.
Health budgeted more than $491,000 for the 2019 financial year but only spent $165,601 on video conferencing units.
The budget for upgrades during the 2020 financial year was $659,399.
In an answer to a question on notice, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the Health Department invested wisely in fit-outs, which meant facilities could be better used during the pandemic.
“For example, many televisions can be used for video conferencing, which has been essential in a year of significantly reduced travel,” she said.
Felicity Caldwell is state political correspondent at the Brisbane Times