Border closures should not become a political issue as the federal election nears in May, industry leaders have said at an aviation summit on Tuesday.
The ACT’s Chief Minister for Tourism Andrew Barr said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison “cannot win a fight” with state premiers over border closures, as state’s scramble to deal with the Omicron variant.
His comments were made at the first in-person CAPA aviation summit since the pandemic with other industry leaders, in response to a question about whether the election would impact decisions on border closures.
“There’s not a lot of political advantage in trying to heavily politicise the closures,” he said. “At this point, everyone’s largely announced a timeframe.
“I think we’ve been through that debate; the more vaccinated the community is, the safer it will be [and] the less politics there is in border opening and closing.”
Minister Barr said continuing a “relentless approach” on encouraging vaccinations would lead to border closures becoming a “last resort”.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to end lockdowns and begin the process of borders being reopened by 80 per cent double vaccinations in late July, state premiers ultimately had the final say, which has remained a heavily debated topic.
Dave Sharma, a NSW MP said at the summit that it is a “constitutional reality” that states have more control when it comes to borders.
“I can’t tell you how many people always come to me and say, ‘but why don’t you just override the state, or why can’t you tell Queensland to open their borders?’ But the constitution is pretty clear on this”.
He said premiers don’t want to “feel like they’re punishing” their voters, as some states open up while others stay closed, but it is “good competitive federalism”.
“That’s how you want federalism to work; one state leads the way or starts to reform or starts to do differently, and other states seem to fall behind.”
He said at a “federal level” he does not believe borders should be a “big political issue”.
The aviation industry has suffered greatly from border closures over the past two years, and nations across the globe have continued to disagree over whether these are effective methods to stop the spread.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa said the slammed borders on its nation, as the Omicron variant emerged, would ruin its economy and further damage its recovery from the pandemic.
But Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist at the University of NSW and an adviser at the World Health Organization said at the summit that Australia’s approach to border closures is not “wrong”.
“From a public health, pandemic perspective, closing borders works because while you’re closing borders, you are then trying to get your community safe,” she said.
She said that during the SARS virus, many argued the impacts of lockdowns and border closures on the economy was too significant, but she believes public health outweighs all other factors.