Time to re-open state borders and reconnect Federation

“Welcome talk of restarting NZ-Australia air travel raises the obvious question of why can’t we reopen the borders between our own states immediately and take down the inconsistent and overly-cautious cross-border barriers,” Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

“It should not be easier to get from Sydney to Wellington than it is to get from Coolangatta to Tweed Heads. And when we eventually can holiday again, wouldn’t it be better for our local economy to take a break in Broome or the Flinders Ranges rather than go skiing in Queenstown?

“Some state governments introduced border restrictions that resulted in a patchwork of rules and created a nightmare for communities and business.

“Australians have made substantial progress over recent weeks in slashing rates of infection and we have addressed more comprehensively the major risk of returning overseas travellers. In the light of these developments the internal cross-border barriers are now presenting as an overly-cautious and unnecessary brake on the movement of goods, services and people.

“Enforcement and monitoring of the cross-border restrictions are also a major drain on the law enforcement agencies at a time when they have much more important tasks to be doing.

“Ai Group members tell me daily of nervous staff asking for letters of authorisation because they fear police stops and potentially huge fines. Freight is moving reasonably well after a difficult start, but many Ai Group members working across borders do so under threat of self-isolation orders and financial penalties for non-compliance ranging from $13,335 in Queensland to $62,800 in the Northern Territory.

“Borders should be reopened fully with the continued understanding and strong messaging that the community and business are expected to adhere to all health and social distancing requirements. Such healthy practices have become second nature to most of us now and we should have confidence in the community to do the right thing without threat.

“If there is one country in the world than can afford to have no internal borders it is Australia, with an island continent to ourselves.

“The sooner we get back to being one country the better. All the messaging has been around encouraging people to stay within their own local communities and so it is hard to fathom where the cross-border risk is coming from.

“The National Cabinet has been highly effective in generating universal agreement on many issues but in this instance, the states and territories have gone it alone resulting in chaotic outcomes for many national businesses and residents, particularly those living close to the borders.

“Business needs a signal that they should be preparing for a return to what will be the new normal beyond the virus and one of those signals should be an immediate removal of inter-state border restrictions.

“If we are to restart the economy properly, we need to reach back to the inspiration of Federation and the idea of free trade and movement of people between the states. Competitive Federalism is a good thing but only when it is about making it simpler to build a better society and grow the economy – not when it makes it harder to live, work and do business,” Mr Willox said.

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