State borders quietly return to normal but for how long?

WA will lift its quarantine requirement with Victoria on Monday marking the end of the last remaining border restriction in the country.

It’s been almost a year since Australia was whole, with WA first closing its border on 6 April 2020 following its public health advice requiring the state to shut its borders for at least 28 days to any jurisdiction that presents a single case.

WA Premier Mark McGowan has maintained his hardline stance to borders as he heads into an election, saying “we do what we have to do in difficult circumstances”.

“If we need to put measures in place, we will, but the other states are obviously improving enormously and the number of people returning from overseas with COVID has come dramatically down because we test overseas now prior to them boarding an aircraft,” he said.

“We’ve consistently improved our hotel quarantine system … we’re very confident that we’re on the right pathway, but we just don’t want to fall at the last moment, that’s why we keep these [border] measures if we need them.”

Tourism expert Dr David Beirman, from Sydney’s University of Technology, said that the Federal Government’s $1.2 billion tourism support package announced yesterday did not necessarily spell the end of border closures.

“It would be nice to think that this package will signal the end to state border closures,” he told news.com.au.

“Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic and state government responses to it have a life of their own.

“While the expansion of the vaccination rollout is likely to reduce the spread of the pandemic in Australia there is no guarantee that individual states will cease border closures or quarantine regulations in the event of a renewed outbreak.”

Without a national border framework in place, the Federal Government has attempted to back those states that were most trigger happy with their border closures into a corner by leaving intrastate travel out of the half-price airfare scheme.

Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said states and territories need “to do their part by agreeing to a nationally consistent approach to using border closures and lockdowns as a last resort on medical advice”.

Dr Beirman said the government’s tactic may work.

“Queensland and Western Australia have been very quick on the border closure trigger when an outbreak has occurred,” he said.

“However, the travel stimulus applying to key tourism destinations in Queensland especially may lead the Queensland government to take a more considered approach to lockdowns and border closures.

“Interstate travel needs more stimulus and rebuilding of confidence than intrastate travel, largely due to the disruptive impact of sudden border closures.”