Coronavirus: National cabinet set for showdown over state border closures

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack arrive at Question Time on Thursday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack arrive at Question Time on Thursday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

State leaders are poised to reject federal interference over domestic border closures during national cabinet on Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will attempt to get state and territory leaders to agree to a shared definition of what constitutes a coronavirus hotspot, in order to deter jurisdictions from shutting their borders arbitrarily.

"We need to come together and ensure that we are clear with Australians that we will seek to make Australia whole again by Christmas this year," Mr Morrison told question time on Thursday.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews have indicated they would be open to adopting the definition developed by the expert panel.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is also likely to support a shared definition of hotspots, so long as it is backed by the medical experts.

However Queensland and Western Australia are likely to hold out on any deal.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says there could be food shortages if a national agriculture code is not agreed on. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says there could be food shortages if a national agriculture code is not agreed on. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said he had made it clear to the Prime Minister the state would not "bring down the borders".

It signals a growing gulf within national cabinet, as the federal government piles pressure on states to reopen their borders in order to get the economy moving again.

Ms Berejiklian took aim on Thursday at Queensland, saying she didn't "know anywhere on the planet" that could meet its strict protocols for reopening its border.

The state had originally said it would keep its borders shut until there were no cases of community transmission in NSW and Victoria.

Queensland has now revised the trigger to reopen the borders to be two incubation periods with no community transmission.

Even if the states won't sign up, Mr Morrison has said the Commonwealth would publish the medical advice on what constituted a hotspot.

If the states erred from this, it would be up to them to explain why.

Mr McGowan also indicated the state was unlikely to sign up to a national agriculture code, which would allow farm workers to transit from one state to another.

State and territory medical experts rejected Agriculture Minister David Littleproud's proposed agriculture code on Wednesday, less than 48 hours before the issue was due to be discussed by national cabinet.

The National Party has attempted to position the border impasse as a leadership test for premiers and chief ministers.

Nationals Leader Michael McCormack questioned why Queensland had allowed senior sporting figures into the state for the launch of the AFL grand final when it had prevented families attending the funerals of loved ones.

"No one likes the AFL more than I do but when people cannot address healthcare, when people can't go to the funeral of a loved one, it's just not right, it's just not fair," Mr McCormack said.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he could not understand why state leaders had endorsed the freight code, which allows truck drivers to move across state borders nationally - but not its agricultural equivalent.

He signalled there could be food shortages if seasonal workers were unable to travel between states.

"These people are coming out of areas that don't have COVID yet we're letting truck drivers and freight companies move around that come from a COVID hotspot. It's just insanity," Mr Littleproud said.

"You might have freight companies [moving] around but you'll have nothing to put on the trucks if our farmers can't go and produce it."

Mr Littleproud said the party was not "asking to tear down borders".

"We're just asking for common sense," he said.

"This is an opportunity for them to show they just don't lead from their capital cities."

However Mr Littleproud's predecessor, Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie has written to all states and territories, demanding they share their advice for closing their border to Victoria.

The ACT even received a letter, despite the border closure coming at the request of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

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Senator McKenzie said it was incumbent on states to show the medical evidence used in making the decision to close state borders to regional Victorians.

"Much of regional Victoria has had a handful of cases and no community transmission," she said.

"Given the ACT has not had a COVID case for over 50 days, the Queensland government should provide the ACT with the medical evidence to support their decision to shut its border to ACT residents.

"I have said for months in learning to live with this virus we need to treat isolated cases swiftly and securely in isolation. Premiers are drunk on political polling numbers rather than relying on medical advice when it comes to managing COVID and shutting down borders."

This story National cabinet set for showdown over state border closures first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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