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Border showdown looms as PM, premiers face 'flashpoint for our federation'


Scott Morrison will plead with premiers and chief ministers to lift border restrictions when national cabinet meets on Friday.

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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is concerned for tourism operators and people in border communities cut off from health care.

“Lives are really being disrupted and you’ve got to ask why when the medical advice is not saying that is what is needed,” Dutton told the Nine Network.

“If we’ve got premiers who are pursuing an elimination process, the country will go broke.”

Queensland’s border closures alone are estimated to cost $21 million and 173 jobs a day.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce says it is confusing why states with no cases are not open to each other.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who hails from rural Queensland, has poured oil on the debate.

“The inability or unwillingness of our premiers to work with each other to find common-sense and practical solutions to restrictions they have imposed is becoming a major test of their leadership,” Littleproud said.

“Premiers must remember that they are not just premiers of capital cities.

“I urge each of them to visit their impacted border regions as soon as possible and thrash out workable solutions with local governments, people, businesses and organisations.”

He described the meeting as a “flashpoint for our federation”.

“Unless premiers commit to work with one another to find workable solutions to state border issues for regional Australians, then they risk states becoming irrelevant to modern Australia.”

Businesses and farm groups have queried border restrictions on large parts of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia that have no coronavirus cases.

As well, there have been concerns raised about the inflexibility of rules preventing people who live near borders from accessing interstate health services.

And the tourism and transport sectors want greater certainty about when to expect an easing of travel restrictions.

Morrison wrote to state leaders on August 16 urging them to resolve problems, and has been working with individual premiers on specific solutions.

Aged care response plans for each state, working with the Federal Government, will also be on the agenda.

There is also expected to be discussion about securing seasonal workers to pick fruit and vegetables.

Two Australian peak medical bodies have demanded essential health services are maintained for those who need to cross the NSW-Queensland or NSW-Victoria borders for care.

With both borders closed due to coronavirus restrictions, the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners on Friday called for border residents requiring medical care to be able to freely cross between states.

Those who cross the border from NSW to Queensland have since August 8 been required to obtain an essential activity permit or quarantine for 14 days.

AMA NSW President Dr Danielle McMullen said the NSW-Queensland border regime was too strict, with some patients unable to access cancer treatments or undergo specialist surgery and others unable to see their newborn babies.

Doctors had also been prevented from crossing the NSW-Queensland border for work, including fill-in and fly-in-fly-out doctors in northern NSW regional communities.

“This also affects doctors-in-training and impacts on their ability to move interstate with their families. Not only do they miss out on the opportunity to work in a rural and regional area, but these communities are left short-changed,” Dr McMullen said in a statement.

“The border closure issues are causing disruption to the usual workings of the medical system at a time when we need it to be functioning at its peak.”

RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett said doctors were reporting lengthy waits for Queensland border exemptions and bureaucratic processes must be streamlined.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday dismissed calls from her own deputy to scrap the state’s border permit system with Victoria.

NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro met with stakeholders in Albury-Wodonga on Thursday, breaking ranks with the government to join calls to relax restrictions.

While Ms Berejiklian conceded “tweaks” to the system may be necessary, she denied border measures had caused tension with Mr Barilaro and said NSW’s safety was her priority.

“We’re trying our hardest to get the right balance but we appreciate, along the way, that certain communities will suffer more than others,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

“We have an open and frank conversation and (Mr Barilaro) is always a bit outspoken.”


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