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Border mutiny: Tourism towns planning street protest across the state

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Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and far north Queensland tourism operators will take to the streets in protest to get the Queensland border opened if the State Government does not commit to opening borders to tourists across the country by July 10.

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The protest, which will involve slow-moving processions of cars through the state’s tourism centres, is expected next week to demand Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk offer a July border opening instead of keeping frustrated tourism operators “in the dark.”

The protest will go ahead if a date for the border to re-open is not included in an announcement expected Sunday on coronavirus restrictions across Queensland being loosened based on health advice.

As fury over the border stoush continues to mount, Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has been forced to defend his support for the Premier’s hardline border position amid business community claims that he has “abandoned” them.

Tate met with the Premier, tourism and business chiefs this week to discuss the impact of the border closure on the Gold Coast, emerging from the meeting to state, “I back the Premier.”

“It (keeping the border closed) is a huge price to pay to make sure that we get down to a COVID-free state, but we really have no choice, because if you don’t do it right this pandemic will ignite again. And I back the Premier,” he said.

Shocked businesses attacked Tate claiming he had abandoned the city’s economic recovery, forcing Tate to take to social media to defend his stance. He said his support to keep the border shut was based on health advice and the risk of potential COVID-19 infections from interstate.

“I am the first person who wants our borders reopened but we have to balance people’s health with our economy,” he said on Facebook.

“A setback to our recovery through interstate infections would cost us months, even years, of tourism investment. Right now the risk is too high.”

But tourism operators said many business would not be able to survive if the border remained shut until September.

Destination Gold Coast has estimated keeping the border shut two months after the mooted July 10 opening date would cost the industry an extra $500 million on top of the devastating $4 billion losses that have already brought the sector to its knees.

The north Queensland tourism industry has also called for its own “travel bubble” for Cairns, Townsville, the Whitsundays and Mackay, claiming it was running at about a $100 million a week loss while travel restrictions remained in place.

Gold Coast booking agent Experience Oz, which is involved in co-ordinating the state-wide protest, said operators feared interstate travel would remain blocked even though other restrictions were expected to be eased this Sunday.

“There is growing concern many tourism businesses (mostly small businesses) will be unable to survive if interstate travel is blocked until September. The winter season is a peak period for interstate travel into Queensland, with southerners looking to escape the colder weather and visit the sunshine state,” the agent said in a statement.

Gold Coast Whales in Paradise owner Anthony Ardern, who said 50 per cent of his business came from interstate tourists, said the protest aimed to get the Premier to stick with her initial estimate of a July border opening date.

“I think she’s put herself between a rock and a hard place. All we really want is for her to stick with the borders opening mid-July,” Ardern said.

“The protest is about showing tourism operators across Queensland’s frustration about being in the dark. We need clarity. We need to know a firm date. And we need to know what’s actually happening so we can plan the successful resurrection of our businesses.”

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