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It's us against the world: Queensland border policy faces chorus of criticism

Politics

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton sides with One Nation as NSW allows more people to dine and drink south of the restricted Queensland border.

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Dutton, who is based in Queensland, has been a fierce critic of the state Labor government, escalating the attacks after he himself recovered from COVID-19.

The federal minister said today the economic impact of the pandemic was extenuated by Queensland’s border restrictions and suggested One Nation leader Pauline Hanson was right to question whether the policy was unconstitutional.

Queensland has imposed a ban on non-essential interstate travel that may not be lifted until September in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been careful not to settle on any date.

Dutton said the September speculation contradicted the state’s roadmap, and Palaszczuk had “painted herself into a corner with no logic to the position”.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today labelled Queensland’s stance “ridiculous,” saying it was damaging the economy and putting families under pressure.

This afternoon, Berejiklian created a new point of difference with Queensland, announcing that NSW restaurants, pubs, clubs and cafes would allow up to 50 patrons from June 1.

Queensland currently has a 10 patron limit – as does NSW– but its roadmap proposes to only lift that to 20 on June 12 and 100 on July 10, depending on the latest health advice. All venues, in both states, will still have to adhere to a four square metre spacing rule, which may make it uneconomical for some venues to reopen.

Hanson is preparing a legal challenge to force the border change, however Palaszczuk has shrugged off the threat, saying the restrictions would be lifted before the High Court even convened on the matter. The Premier insists the policy will be reviewed at the end of every month, based on the latest health advice.

Asked today whether he believed the Premier’s actions were unconstitutional, Dutton was not sure, but said “people are right to test that if they think it’s not because it is impacting on people’s lives.”

His colleague, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, told Sky News premiers should not “make political decisions” on border closures, rather ensure such policies were “genuinely based on the health and well being of people”.

However, Cormann appeared to suggest the Morrison government’s health advice had precedence over that obtained by Queensland.

“Of course we want to see those state border closures removed as soon as possible in particular given the advice from our Chief Medical Officer and our deputy chief medical officer that there is no medical case for these state border closures to be maintained,” Cormann said.

“They do come at a cost, they come at an economic cost, at a jobs cost and if there is no health justification for them then of course they should be lifted.”

Their comments came as other states defended their border restrictions, and after federal Health Minister Greg Hunt this week insisted such policies were a matter for the states. International travel restrictions will remain in place for some time.

For the first Friday in recent weeks, National Cabinet has not met today, in a sign that the reduced rate of infection may have taken the urgency out of deliberations. Politically, however, the federal Opposition has questioned whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who had previously afforded the states some flexibility in response – now wants cooperative federalism to fail.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick unexpectedly drew on the former Howard government’s immigration stance to defend the government from Opposition attacks in parliament.

“Let me say something about border closures in terms and words that even members of the Liberal National Party will understand,” Dick, from Labor’s Right faction, said on Thursday.

“Queenslanders will choose who comes to Queensland and the circumstances in which they come.”

Queensland’s tally of COVID-19 cases remains unchanged at 1,058, as of Friday morning, with only 12 active cases and six deaths to date. NSW, however, has recorded another three cases, bringing its tally to 3,084, and also the 50th death in the state. Victoria also has a high number of cases and a growing cluster from an abattoir outbreak.

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has said that from a medical point of view, he could not see why some borders remained closed. However, his Queensland counterpart, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young, has pointed to “hotspots” in NSW and Victoria and the risk of the coronavirus spreading as it did with overseas travellers.

After Palaszczuk on Thursday said she would not be lectured by the NSW government, given its record on COVID-19, Berejiklian urged Queensland to reconsider the policy for the good of the nation.

“We should be able to have a conversation,” Berejiklian said on Triple M today.

“I just think it’s a bit ridiculous not having people travel a few kilometres over the border to see a loved one or do some shopping or in the future be able to move around and support the tourism industry.

“I’m just saying to my colleagues in other states, please consider this, because it is good for Australia not just for NSW.”

Tourism operators have pleaded with the premier to open the border from July, the earliest that could be allowed under Queensland’s roadmap, however Young has said that remains only a remote possibility. Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind and Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate accept the restrictions have so far been based on health advice, which is appropriate.

For her part, Hanson normally takes an anti-immigration stance on global issues but is keen to keep Australia’s borders open internally.

“I’ve had three legal firms who have contacted my office also wanting to get involved in this case,” she told the Nine Network on Friday.

“They are constitutional lawyers. Surprisingly also by midday yesterday we had 45 people to come forward to be the plaintiff in this action against the Palaszczuk government.”

University of Queensland constitutional law professor Nicholas Aroney told SBS the High Court would have to decide if the border closure and resulting restrictions on the movement of people was a response proportionate to the situation.

Aroney noted, however, that the case for restrictions was diminished as the number of infections dropped.

– With AAP

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