Tourism

Coronavirus border row heats up, as WA uses Ruby Princess debacle to taunt NSW

The row between the states over remaining border closures has intensified, with a rift emerging between federal health officials and their state counterparts just a day after NSW announced travel restrictions would be removed from 1 June.

Premier Berejiklian maintains interstate travel would be an important part of Australia’s post-pandemic recovery, and today told the ABC’s News Breakfast that other states would miss out if their borders remain closed.

Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania have all closed their borders and are yet to announce a concrete timeline for when they would reopen.

“In fact, I’m sure those premiers are getting more popular in their states for keeping their borders closed,” Berejiklian told News Breakfast.

According to ABC News, a recent Newspoll showed WA Premier Mark McGowan was rated the nation’s most popular leader, earning approval from 89 per cent of the WA public.

In terms of Australia’s 7,079 total confirmed cases of COVID-19, NSW accounts for 3,081.

In the 24 hours to 8pm last night, there were two new cases of COVID-19 in NSW, from more than 9,700 tests.

The Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk – who this week said her state’s borders could stay closed to September – and her South Australian counterpart, Steven Marshall, have resisted previous calls by Berejiklian to open their borders.

Palaszczuk today responded to Berejiklian’s criticism over Queensland’s border closure by insisting she won’t be “lectured to by the worst-performing state” on COVID-19.

Announcing Queensland had recorded another zero-case day with just 12 active cases, Palaszczuk held firm to her decision to keep her state’s borders closed for potentially months more.

Meanwhiler, Premier McGowan said he would not be “bullied” by the state that allowed the Ruby Princess disaster to unfold, and accused NSW of having an inconsistent COVID-19 message.

“New South Wales had the Ruby Princess – I mean, seriously? And they are trying to give us advice on our borders, seriously?” he said, as reported by ABC News.

“Do you think I should listen to them? I’m not listening to them.”

Francois Peron National Park (iStock/Francesco Ricca Iacomino)

McGowan said restrictions would remain to protect Western Australians, and that he expected the WA border would remain closed for months to come.

It comes as Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, said he saw no reason to keep state borders closed any longer.

“From a medical point of view, I can’t see why the borders are still closed but as I said that’s for the states and territories to decide when that time is right for them,” Kelly said, as reported by ABC News.

But WA Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson said in a statement to the public broadcaster: “Until community spread is eliminated in [COVID-19] affected jurisdictions, which will require at least a month to confirm (two 14-day incubation periods), opening of the interstate borders is not recommended.”

According to ABC News, the WA Premier insisted becoming an “island within an island” was allowing his state to ease internal restrictions further than other states and boost its economic activity.

Since Monday, WA citizens have been allowed to gather in groups of up to 20, including for dine-in meals in restaurants, cafes, and bars under strict conditions.

In many other states, including NSW, venues are restricted to 10 patrons. However, Berejiklian told News Breakfast she would not rule out allowing 20 patrons in cafes and restaurants by 1 June.

“The Premier over there is saying don’t catch a bus or a train, yet they are saying people from New South Wales should fly here? No, thanks,” McGowan said.

It comes as news of the lift on intrastate travel restrictions in NSW was welcomed by some regional vendors.

However, others – including the head of a local tourism group – said opening up to tourists would bring “a lot of risk”, ABC News reported.

Tammy Elbourne, the head of Tourism Moree, told ABC News there should have been more discussion between the state government and local stakeholders.

“I think it’s a little bit of a cavalier approach to say, ‘In 10 days time jump in your car and travel out to regional areas’,” she said.

Elbourne told the public broadcaster following the rules was vital, warning it would be “very difficult to make sure what we do is correct”.

“I think we’re all really nervous, to be honest. In a perfect world we would love to be welcoming tourists back into our region,” she said.

“But I am concerned that this announcement is just a little bit early for our community.”


Featured image: iStock/Bruce Aspley

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