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Australia Is the clock ticking on WA's hard border closure?

12:21  27 october  2020
12:21  27 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Western Australia 's border with the rest of the country has been closed since April 5, with no reopening in sight. Key points: Public support for WA ' s hard border has been strong during the pandemic. But some fear the ongoing closure will have a significant psychological cost.

Mr James said while WA ' s months-long closure had initially been a "positive rather than a negative" it was now starting to affect neighbouring jurisdictions such as the NT. The NT and WA share a border across thousands of kilometres from Central Australia to the northern gateway to the Kimberley.

a man wearing a blue shirt: Vineyard owner Andrew Huxtable has mixed feelings about WA's hard border reopening. (ABC News: Hannah Sinclair) © Provided by ABC Health Vineyard owner Andrew Huxtable has mixed feelings about WA's hard border reopening. (ABC News: Hannah Sinclair)

Like many small business owners, Andrew Huxtable was forced to shut up shop earlier this year, closing his small vineyard and cellar door in Swan Valley, just outside Perth, as COVID-19 upended life across Australia.

But with restrictions eased in Western Australia for months now, Mr Huxtable finds himself busier than ever.

"We're probably running at about 120 per cent of where we would have been last year," Mr Huxtable told 7.30.

"For us, the big change has been a local demographic, and particularly the younger demographic coming out on buses.

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WA ' s interstate border was closed in early April in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19. Plus there is the High Court challenge by Clive Palmer — a legal fight some experts think he has a reasonable chance of winning, although lengthy legal processes mean a possible victory may not come until after

Treasury's prediction that WA ' s border would stay closed until well into 2021 was far from a headline in Treasurer Ben Wyatt's budget documents. It was literally in the fine print. "Treasury has adopted the working assumption that interstate borders reopen from the June quarter 2021," that footnote stated

"We've actually expanded that part of our business in the mornings."

Mr Huxtable attributes his ability to operate successfully to the State Government's hard border strategy.

"If we didn't have that hard border closure, we wouldn't be as open as we are now," he said.

"For us as a business, it's been fantastic. It's enabled us to employ people, keep everyone alive."

'Really difficult to grapple with'

For Jimi Muirhead, 26, the hard border is a source of anguish and uncertainty.

Mr Muirhead has lived in Melbourne for four years, but his family is in Western Australia.

Because of border closures in WA and Queensland, he has been unable to attend two funerals this year.

Adding to an already difficult period, he recently discovered his mother, who lives in Perth, has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

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Key points WA ' s hard border closure could also restrict interstate FIFO workers The Premier also flagged police drones will disperse groups Mr McGowan said the earliest a hard border closure was likely to be implemented would be

The WA Government will close its borders to arrivals from the eastern states at the end of this week, the first time in history it has done so since it There have been so many restrictions announced over the past few weeks, it can be hard to know what' s what. But unlike previous restrictions, this is the big

"I think the indefiniteness of the border closure, and the criteria, which I see as unrealistic, is really difficult to grapple with on a personal level, on a mental-health level, on a day to day when-am-I-going-to-get-home level," Mr Muirhead said.

The law graduate, who recently started a new job, said applying for an exemption and being required to quarantine and use annual leave was not a straightforward prospect.

He said he understood he may not be able to travel home for Christmas, but would like more certainty about when the border rules may be relaxed.

"I would like to see greater dialogue and greater strategy between states to coordinate what's best for Australia and for Australians," Mr Muirhead said.

People can only enter WA if they meet strict exemption criteria, for example being a truck driver or an emergency service worker.

Exemptions may also be granted on compassionate grounds, such as to visit a relative who has suffered a serious medical episode or whose death is imminent.

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While WA ' s hard border closure remains popular, the personal consequences are about to hit home for many WA families facing the prospect of spending Clive Palmer may still win border battle. As things stand, there are only two paths that see WA open up before the festive period. One is the virus

Lawyers trying to topple WA ' s hard border on behalf of Clive Palmer might be forgiven if their jaws dropped when they heard Mark McGowan's latest But it was not just Mr McGowan's comments that put a renewed focus on WA ' s border closure this week. Frustration within business circles about the

"There's a lot of quiet Western Australians who are suffering through this, who really do need to see a pathway out of the hard border in the future," Leader of the WA Opposition, Liza Harvey, said.

"I'm not saying tomorrow, I'm not saying open slather. I'm not saying open up to the world. I'm saying, let's take a stepped, managed, safe approach that's compassionate to allow families to come together."

'If it comes back it can be devastating'

Premier Mark McGowan has enjoyed broad support for the border strategy so far, with one poll last month giving the leader a 91 per cent approval rating, just five months out from the state election.

When asked by 7.30 how much of the hard border strategy was politically driven, the Premier replied "none of it", insisting it was all driven by health advice.

"Government policy will be decided by what the Chief Health Officer has to say," Mr McGowan told 7.30.

"In terms of letting families reunite, there are exemption processes people can apply for."

Mr McGowan would not be drawn on when the closure might be lifted and said while he was "not comfortable" with families being separated over Christmas outbreaks overseas were a reminder to exercise caution.

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PM says WA 'unilateral' border closure allowed state to accelerate reopening. WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Rodwell said it was critical that businesses knew the "secret 'Wander Out Yonder': WA residents urged to holiday at home, as hard border stays put.

WA ' s borders have been closed since April. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas). Opposition Leader Liza Harvey's stance against WA ' s border closure had been deeply unpopular with her colleagues. "The WA Liberals have chosen to back Clive Palmer's high court challenge on WA ' s hard border .

"As you've seen in Britain and all over Europe and the United States, all over the world, if it comes back, it can be devastating. That's why Western Australia has a very, very cautious approach."

High Court challenge ahead

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer has launched a court case challenging WA's border closure, with the High Court set to decide next week if it is unconstitutional.

"We haven't had a period like this in the Australian federation for a very long time, probably not since wartime," constitutional law expert at the Australian National University, Amelia Simpson, said.

"As a matter of law, it is possible that Western Australia's border could be closed forever if there were pressing epidemiological or other reasons for keeping them shut."

The case will focus on section 92 of the constitution which says movement and trade between states should be absolutely free.

"It's going to be increasingly hard [for Western Australia] to justify that closure. It has to be able to show that it is necessary," Dr Simpson said.

"At the moment I think its chances of showing that it is necessary are pretty good."

Dr Simpson said the case would be watched closely by other jurisdictions which had also implemented border closures as a way to manage coronavirus outbreaks.

"Here you have almost a classic case of an unquantifiable wicked problem: the economic interests against the interests of health and life. And how do you reconcile those?" she said.

"That's not really a question that judges are going to feel very comfortable with … they're going to want to say, I suspect, that this is a question for the democratically elected branches of government."

Mr Huxtable has mixed feelings about the potential impact of the border reopening, but says it could be positive for many businesses which have not been able to bounce back as readily as his and which are missing interstate tourists.

"I understand that notion of let's keep the hard borders, because we can work with that for now, but it's not forever. At some point it's got to change and I think we all know that," he said.

"It's only about the timing and the impact and how we do it."

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Coffs Coast GP says border reopening will improve healthcare for local residents .
A Mid North Coast doctor says the reopening of Queensland's border with regional New South Wales is long overdue, but urges residents to stay safe to avoid restrictions coming back.People in selected council areas from Tweed Valley to Richmond Valley have been able to travel interstate since early last month as part of a border bubble arrangement.

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