A federal cabinet minister has lashed out with an extraordinary attack on premiers, declaring Friday’s national cabinet meeting “has become a flashpoint for the future of Australia’s federation”.
Agriculture minister and deputy leader of the Nationals David Littleproud accused premiers of “city centric decisions” and said unless they “commit to work with one another to find workable solutions to state border issues for regional Australians … they risk states becoming irrelevant to modern Australia”.
Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas, which on Thursday announced a loss of nearly A$2 billion for the year to June 30, also hit out over the internal borders.
“We don’t have clear guidelines for when the borders will open, when they will close,” he said.
“So we have this situation where there are large numbers of states and territories that have zero cases and they’re not even open to each other.”
Business generally is highly critical that premiers have been digging in behind their closed borders. The tourist industry is being especially hard hit.
Littleproud’s public anger reflects the frustrations of Scott Morrison and other ministers.
While accepting the need for the Victorian border to be shut, the federal government believes the broader closures are unnecessarily holding back the economy’s recovery.
It is also angry at the difficulty of getting specific issues resolved such as transits for agricultural and other workers and medical cases. Morrison this week has been negotiating with individual states on problems.
The borders will be a major issue at the national cabinet. Morrison has set out principles he wants to see followed when borders are closed – these deal the federal government into the discussion. But the power over their borders is with the state and territory governments.
With elections looming in Queensland and Western Australia, their premiers are convinced their voters prefer closed borders to keep them safe. This has been supported in polls. The Northern Territory, which has strict quarantine arrangements for people from COVID hot spots, goes to the polls on Saturday.
Littleproud said premiers must urgently consult with one another and regional communities to deliver practical resolutions, “and not rely on city centric policy formation forgetting a third of the country’s population and our agricultural production systems.
“While we support evidence-based restrictions to protect human health, ongoing border restrictions on large sections of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia that have no COVID-19 cases are posing major challenges on agricultural supply chains, as well as on the health and welfare of residents,” he said.
He said recent announcements to deal with cross-border issues hadn’t been developed in partnership with regional communities, or didn’t seem “genuine in rectifying the serious impacts on many families, communities, workers and industries.
“What these city centric decisions fail to acknowledge is that modern regional Australia has outgrown state lines, and that many regions share strong economic, social and community links across borders.
“The integrated and connected nature of many regional economies is also exposing the limitations of the states and these border closures are becoming a flashpoint for our federation and the future role and relevance of the states in our nation.
“The inability or unwillingness of our premiers to work with each other to find common-sense and practical solutions to restrictions that they have imposed is becoming a major test of their leadership.
“Premiers must remember that they are not just premiers of capital cities.”
Littleproud said premiers should visit affected border regions and thrash out solutions with local governments, people, businesses and organisations.
National cabinet will also discuss joint federal-state emergency response plans for aged care.
In a new submission to the Royal Commission on Aged Care the Australian Medical Association has called for every residential aged care home in the country to be urgently and comprehensively assessed for its ability to safely care for residents during COVID.
AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, said this week, “Aged care was in crisis long before the pandemic started, and the failures of clinical care and clinical governance in aged care homes have simply been amplified by COVID-19”.
He said hundreds of elderly people had died needlessly.
“Last year, the AMA and our colleagues in the nursing profession joined forces to campaign for urgent changes to our aged care system. We said then that care can’t wait.
“Had our calls and recommendations over the past decade been heeded and implemented, we would not be facing the crisis to the extent we are currently seeing in aged care in Victoria”