NSW pressure to reopen state borders triggers accusations of bullying from WA and Queensland premiers
The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, remains in a sparring contest with her Queensland and Western Australian counterparts, as pressure to reopen state borders triggers accusations of bullying between leaders and threats of travel restrictions until September.
In a week without a national cabinet meeting, the WA premier, Mark McGowan, and Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, have blasted Berejiklian for calling on them to lift bans on interstate travel, with the latter saying she would not be “lectured” by a state that has recorded more Covid-19 cases.
Earlier this week, authorities in NSW – which, along with Victoria and and the ACT, never formally shut its borders to the degree that other states and territories did – announced regional travel within the state would be allowed from 1 June.
In WA, travel restrictions are in place between several biosecurity zones within the state to protect remote communities. In Queensland, the state’s chief health officer, Jeannette Young, warned the local tourism industry on Wednesday to realistically prepare for travel to return to normal by September.
At the federal level, the tourism minister, Simon Birmingham, has called for restrictions on travel between states to be eased to aid the economic recovery while the deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, has said “from a medical point of view I can’t see why the borders are still closed”.
He was responding to comments from McGowan that leaders in WA – which had three active Covid-19 cases as of Thursday – would not take health advice from the state where the Ruby Princess cruise ship was allowed to disembark passengers.
“It’s odd, NSW is saying don’t catch public transport in Sydney ... yet they’re saying why can’t NSW people fly to Western Australia,” McGowan said.
“We’re not going to give in to that sort of bullying by the NSW premier or anyone else. We are going to protect the health and the economy of Western Australia,” he said.
That accusation of bullying prompted Berejiklian to defend her push to reopen travel between states on Thursday morning, suggesting premiers who took a firm stance on retaining border closures were benefiting by appearing more popular to their citizens.
“I just don’t think it’s logical at this stage to maintain those border closures for a prolonged period of time,” Berejiklian told ABC TV on Thursday morning.
“For Australia to really move forward as a nation during this very difficult economic time as well as difficult health time, we do need … to allow people to move between states, to live, to work, to see family,” she said, adding that communities between northern NSW and south-east Queensland saw the border as “artificial”, with a visit to a doctor or family often meaning crossing state lines.
Berejiklian denied that she was bullying other states, saying: “I think expressing an opinion about the future economic health of our nation is what I should be allowed to do.”
At a daily Queensland Covid-19 press conference shortly after, Palaszczuk accused Berejiklian of underperforming on the health front.
“We’re not going to be lectured to by a state that has the highest numbers in Australia,” Palaszczuk said.
“Here in Queensland, it is best for us that we continue to minimise movement across our domestic borders … This is not the time for tourists to travel into Queensland because one case can cause an enormous setback to our plan,” she said.
This prompted the federal home affairs minister and Queensland MP Peter Dutton, during his regular Thursday morning slot on 2GB radio, to attack Palaszczuk.
“There is just no logic to her posi
tion ... If she had a sound basis then people could easily agree with her position, but it’s clear that she just doesn’t have a logical argument.”
The One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, later echoed the pro-border reopening position, calling on Palaszczuk to “let people get on with their lives”.
The premiers of Queensland and Western Australia have blasted NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian for calling on them to reopen borders.