The months of June and July are traditionally a time when many southerners make the long migration north to Queensland to escape the winter and soak up the sunshine. Many Queenslanders at this time of year depend on these interstate visitors for their livelihoods. They depend on a vibrant and functioning tourism and hospitality industry. Unfortunately, in this time of coronavirus, this year is looking a lot different and for the worse, exacerbated by petty restrictions and border closures.
The Queensland border has remained closed since midnight on 25 March. Premier Annastasia Palaszczuk is insisting that this will continue until at least September (subject to ongoing review). The Premier has in the past few days backtracked on her government’s recently announced date of 10 July to reopen borders based on advice from her Chief Health Officer (CHO) Jeannette Young. The CHO and the Premier cite ongoing active cases of COVID-19 in NSW and Victoria as the main reason for keeping the borders closed. The CHO does not want the borders open until two consecutive 14-day incubation periods without community transmission in Victoria and NSW. Demanding such conditions is unrealistic and demonstrates how risk-averse our policymakers have become.
As the table and graph below demonstrate, reported cases have continued to decline in these two states and across Australia in general. Little to no medical evidence has been cited as to why border closures need to continue or were needed in the first place. Indeed, the federal Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has stated “The domestic borders were not part of our plan for control of this, either opening or closing. From a medical point of view, I can’t see why borders are still closed.” This is backed up by the stats that show the majority of Queensland’s COVID-19 cases were acquired overseas (77 per cent), while less than 2 per cent were acquired interstate (See Queensland Health COVID-19 statistics). The shutting of the national border — not the closure of state borders — has most likely made the biggest difference.
Australia’s reported COVID-19 cases — https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-current-situation-and-case-numbers
Australia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases — this is what we are told to be afraid of — https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-current-situation-and-case-numbers
To be told that Queensland’s borders will not open until September, missing the peak tourist season for winter, is a major kick in the guts for a tourism and hospitality industry that is already on its knees. Regions such as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and North Queensland have been pulverised by curtailed international travel, arbitrary travel limits, and other restrictions. It has seen them lose valuable long-weekend and Easter holiday trade. For some parts of Queensland this is on top of the major impacts caused by a lengthy drought and the 19/20 summer bushfires.
What is more, these regions are predominately made up of small businesses, who employ many part-time and semi-skilled workers. These businesses are run by individuals and families, who have invested a lot of time and money over many years into their businesses, often building them up from scratch and taking risks to do so. In many instances, these businesses are key components of their local community — economically and socially. They are the wealth creators and relationship builders. If they die, so does their community.
According to Tourism Queensland, 8 million interstate visitors come to Queensland every year. In 2019, domestic tourism generated $1.6 billion in expenditure per month according to the Queensland Tourism Industry Council. This is the income now being lost by tourist operators and their employees for every month that the border remains closed. There are currently 34,000 hotel rooms on the Gold Coast with 4 per cent occupancy, while there are hotels and resorts closed in Far North Queensland. This is not sustainable. Nor is it acceptable.
Opening the borders may impose some risk to public health, but that risk has been significantly reduced, is under control, and is manageable going forward. The greater risk remains with any further delay to economic recovery that will inevitably see more businesses fail, more livelihoods destroyed, and more lives unnecessarily disrupted and shattered. These are very human and very real consequences that must be taken seriously because of their significant long-term impacts.
The Premier has constantly reminded Queenslanders that we are “all in this together”, but as the latest decision around the borders highlights, some are more in it than others. Neither parliamentarians nor public servants have shared in the burden of this crisis. They have no skin in the game. This is unlike in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, where a federal Labor government had all states agree to a 20 per cent wage cut for MPs and public servants.
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