Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s comments that the Northern Territory will likely keep border restrictions in place for at least 18 months have been slammed by both tourism experts and the opposition, calling it a “death knell” for tourism.
Speaking on ABC News Breakfast, Gunner said the NT had “an indefinite ban on Victoria, and Sydney keeps bubbling away to a point where I can’t give you a date where that would ever lift”.
“We’ll have our hard border controls in place for at least the next 18 months, and we are resourcing so we can do that,” he said.
But both tourism experts and the opposition have expressed concern over his remarks about “hard borders”, calling them “confusing” and “reckless”.
“Most people who do their research will know NT’s borders are open aside from hot spots, but when you use language like that it can be confusing,” Chamber of Commerce boss Greg Ireland said.
Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro described Gunner’s remarks as “irresponsible”.
“The fact that he is using irresponsible language, and sending mixed signals is reckless and a chief minister should know better,” she said.
Tourism lecturer David Beirman, from Sydney’s University of Technology, said the Chief Minister’s comments were a “death knell” for the Territory’s tourism sector, which is valued at $1.2 billion.
“In signalling a virtual lockdown and hard borders for the NT for 18 months, the government is signalling the death knell for many of the NT’s most lucrative tourism businesses and attractions, including Kakadu National Park, Uluru, the MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs and Darwin,” Dr Beirman said.
“I fully respect the right of any Australian state or territory to do all they can to protect the health of its citizens.
“However, flagging the sentencing of Territorians to 18 months isolation from fellow Australians and the rest of the world is a step too far.”
Dr Beirman said that the NT’s local population of just 300,000 people was not enough to sustain the viability of its world-class tourist attractions.
“All that kind of ultra-negative thinking really achieves is that a lot of businesses are likely to literally throw in the towel and abandon the Northern Territory,” he said.
“It’s a recipe for significant unemployment and a potential recipe for economic pain.”