Opposing stances on coronavirus restrictions related to state borders has exposed rivalries between premiers, with several leaders taking swings at each other as tensions boiled over this week. Ms Berejiklian wants the return of domestic tourism to help the economy, and has been leading the push to convince other states to scrap travel restrictions. Out west, Mr McGowan has remained adamant the WA border would remain closed for months, taking exception to being told what to do, and landing a few jabs.
Premiers sling barbs at each other over border policies as coronavirus restrictions ease
Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also entered the ring, holding the rope for her Transport Minister Mark Bailey, neither missing a chance to take a crack at the southerners.
Here’s what’s been said as the border issue heats up.
The WA Premier’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been well received and, according to Ms Berejikillan, he is bickering with NSW to keep his popularity high.
When Ms Berejiklian said closed states would hurt the national economic recovery, Mr McGowan was quick to suggest NSW was in no place to give advice.
“New South Wales had the Ruby Princess — I mean, seriously? And they are trying to give us advice on our borders, seriously?”
“Do you think I should listen to them? I’m not listening to them.
“Some eastern states politicians don’t like it … but it is based on health advice, it is the best thing for the state.
“It’s odd, New South Wales is saying don’t catch public transport in Sydney, they’re restricting the number of people who can go to a restaurant or cafe far more than Western Australia is, yet they’re saying ‘why can’t New South Wales people fly to Western Australia?’
“We’re not going to give in to that sort of bullying by the New South Wales Premier, or anyone else.”
Mr McGowan said WA would not succumb to pressure from Canberra after Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said if COVID-19 continued to be successfully suppressed states should relax border controls.
“I know the New South Wales Premier is unhappy, I know Mr Birmingham is unhappy. But frankly, bad luck,” he said.
“It might inconvenience the New South Wales Premier and some people from the eastern states, but frankly, I don’t give a damn.”
She fired one of the first shots while announcing an end to travel restrictions, positioning NSW as central to the success of the rest of Australia.
“We intend to keep our borders open. We think that’s best for New South Wales but also best for Australia. We’ll play our part as the largest state, traditionally the economic powerhouse of the nation, to make sure we engage as much economic activity as possible.” she said.
When speaking about her opposition to the other premiers’ border shutdowns, said she would “probably feel offended if they told me how to do my job”, but then added:
“I often joke with the Queensland Premier that I’ll end up going to Auckland before I go to Brisbane if we continue the way we are going.”
Ms Berejiklian has suggested closures may be more about politics than health.
“In fact, I’m sure those premiers are getting more popular in their states for keeping their borders closed.”
She has also pointed out that, as international travel ground to a halt during the pandemic, NSW had been the “gateway to Australia”, playing a crucial role in helping people in other states get home.
“The irony is that we have been doing that for all the states, for a significant number of months, so we have been supporting them [other states],” she said.
“And we proudly say we’re the global city of Australia, we’re the gateway to Australia. And we’ve taken on that role during the pandemic.”
At times, Ms Palaszczuk has appeared frustrated when defending the ongoing border closures, which will be reviewed monthly but are unlikely to ease before September.
She has been open to creating a domestic travel bubble with states other than NSW and Victoria.
“Unfortunately, New South Wales and Victoria have that community transmission and they have to get that under control before we allow visitors to come here,” she said.
“You know what, when we get through this together, I’ll be the number one supporter going down there and urging people to come here.”
Mr Bailey took aim directly at Ms Berejiklian, and said his Government “won’t be lectured” by the “worst performing state in Australia”.
“There were 33 times the number of active cases in NSW compared to Queensland,” he said.
“NSW needs to get its act together and get community transmission down and we will all be better off throughout this nation, including in Queensland.”
Chief Medical Officers don’t want ‘countries within countries’
While the states have been clashing over what they see as best for their residents, the nation’s top medical officers have stepped in to clarify what they think is the best way forward.
Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Wednesday said there was never national advice issued that states should close their borders, but he respected their decision to do so “to protect their own population”.
“From a medical point of view, I can’t see why the borders are still closed, but as I said that’s for the states and territories to decide when that time is right for them,” he said.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth said decisions about reopening were up to each state.
“At the moment though, with the small number of cases Australia-wide, it is challenging to see the medical benefit of keeping State borders closed for lengthy periods of time going forward,” he told Channel Nine’s Today Show.
“The national strategy is suppression. Which means we are not going for zero cases Australia-wide. So we expect to see small numbers of cases come up now and again.
“I think it is important that that national strategy of suppression is a national strategy. That we don’t have countries within countries during this pandemic.
“Closing the borders may lead to an expectation that you can have zero cases in a particular area until there is a vaccine. I think that would put too much pressure on the nation, of course.
“It is looking for an outcome that we are not even sure that is going to happen. Which is a vaccine that could be 12–18 months away or could never happen.”