Is refusal to open border about the virus – or pride?

COMMENT

PRESSURE is mounting on Queensland to reopen its borders for interstate travel, with the Prime Minister spelling out not only the damaging consequences for tourism and air travel, but also criticising how the state moved the goalposts on criteria.

Why Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is not budging is a perplexing question. She remains concerned about the risks posed by the coronavirus, but other issues have to be in play, surely.

For a while her stance was a worthy demonstration of strong leadership, but as weeks have dragged into months and with an election in October, her Government has to listen to the pleas of the people being hurt.

 

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

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With coronavirus figures having plunged well below the point where the cure looks significantly worse than the problem, she should be taking note of not only the pain that remains for border communities - as spelt out in a small protest at Tomewin yesterday - but also accept that salvaging tourism as the nation dives into recession will take more than allowing Queenslanders to drive freely around the state and permitting a few extra patrons at pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday said that when the National Cabinet looked to July for freeing up interstate travel, the parties worked out a "three-stop process" that did not include border closures. He said such a move was never the health advice and was never the agreement.

Indeed, Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young has told a parliamentary hearing into the state's response to the pandemic that Queensland had met the three criteria - adequate capacity to test for the virus; contact tracing ability to stop its spread; and rapid response to known cases to prevent clusters - and she had no fear the state would experience a second wave of the disease.

 

Mount Tomewin resident and organic farmer Lt Col David Freeman (Ret) was among a group of residents protesting at the NSW/Queensland border, at Mount Tomewin. He and hundreds of others are wasting hours of their lives every day sitting in their cars due to the border closure. Photo Scott Powick Newscorp
Mount Tomewin resident and organic farmer Lt Col David Freeman (Ret) was among a group of residents protesting at the NSW/Queensland border, at Mount Tomewin. He and hundreds of others are wasting hours of their lives every day sitting in their cars due to the border closure. Photo Scott Powick Newscorp

Her concern had been too few people were coming forward to be tested for the virus, but she conceded this might be due to there being "next to no" respiratory illnesses in the state. Despite this, she is reluctant to reopen Queensland for interstate travel, even though the Commonwealth's deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, says there is no reason for closed borders.

State Health Minister Steven Miles said yesterday Queensland would not be bullied by the PM into reopening the border. Is that all this is about? Pride?

It is not a matter of being bullied. It is common sense and doing what is right for the thousands of people struggling now with unemployment and escalating mental health issues. Growing numbers are feeling the pressure of having lost jobs.

Yesterday, Tomewin locals revealed how the hard closure of the border that splits their tiny community has forced them to drive unrealistic distances to checkpoints so they can get children to school, reach medical help or take produce to markets. On a broader scale, there is the hammering the city's major industries have suffered as a result of the restrictions.

The irony is that while the Premier digs in against interstate travel, her government is also prepared to sink taxpayers' dollars into supporting the domestic airline industry and therefore tourism by trying to be part of a bid to take over Virgin, hoping to keep its headquarters in Brisbane.

Originally published as Is refusal to open border about the virus - or pride?



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