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Bordering on the ridiculous

Opinion

The politics around the border restrictions have ushered in a new wave of COVID-19 hysteria, writes Sean Parnell

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Before Tuesday, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was content to defend Queensland’s health while at the same time arguing her Labor government was a team player.

Asked repeatedly whether Queensland border restrictions could be eased for some states but not others, Palaszczuk repeatedly said that option was not one favoured by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a Liberal. In any event, Queensland had a “road map” and she was sticking to a July 10 change (having previously sparked controversy with speculation of September). It was a cautious approach that played well with Queenslanders.

Morrison, of course, wanted all border restrictions eased, blaming them – or, more often just Queensland – for slowing the economic recovery, delaying the return of international students and tourists. This, perhaps, reflected the limits on federal stimulus and the need to find other factors at play.

NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian, meanwhile, had pulled back her criticism of Queensland and just wanted all the restrictions eased. Her state had slowed community transmission of COVID-19. Pointing out that NSW was a gateway state for the nation, Berejiklian said every risk was manageable – but Victorians should think twice about travelling north. Faced with an ongoing outbreak, Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews would eventually tell Victorians in some suburbs of Melbourne not to travel anywhere.

For her part, Queensland’s LNP Opposition leader, Deb Frecklington, simply wanted her state to open its borders immediately, warning business was suffering and Palaszczuk had failed.

As expected, Palaszczuk announced the Queensland border would effectively remain closed to Victorians. However, people from other states would be allowed in, if they could prove they hadn’t been to Victoria.

Faced with the option of easing the restrictions, in line with the road map, or delaying the move, Palaszczuk found a plan C – the border would be partly open, with differential restrictions, or what she described as “strengthening”. She then, most notably, found a new position on the politics, declaring “these border wars have got to stop”.

Palaszczuk was rightly frustrated that Morrison kept singling Queensland out for criticism when other states also had border restrictions. She suggested the Prime Minister should have kept the federation united, and Victoria might have been in a better position had it followed Queensland’s lead.

In doing so, Palaszczuk stood up to Morrison, but clumsily criticised Victoria while at the same time calling for an end to the state-vs-state, Liberal against Labor, tired old argy-bargy. She also backed the continuation of National Cabinet.

The Queensland Labor apparatchiks may have been confused by the nuance in Palaszczuk’s comments. Within hours, they had tweeted an attack on “Negative Deb, warning her criticisms were a risk to Queensland’s “health and economic warfare (sic)”.

“If it was up to DEB, QLD would be FLOODED with Victorians,” the tweet said, before it was deleted.

Morrison today put it all down to politics, suggesting the upcoming Queensland election was Palaszczuk’s motivation. Another upcoming date is the end of the commonwealth’s welfare boost in September, when it might be convenient to have someone else to blame for everything.

Others lashed Palaszczuk and Queensland Labor for demonising Victoria, even as Queensland Health was rallying behind the southern state. Frecklington, meanwhile, was claiming credit for calling for the borders to reopen, and criticising Palaszczuk for saying it couldn’t be done.

Today is a new financial year, but also a new political year, where contrasting styles of fear-mongering will threaten traditional party allegiances and put everyone on the defensive. With some people believing the COVID-19 threat has passed, and others worried it has somehow returned, amid a sluggish economy, none of the politicians want to be blamed when life does not return to normal.

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