House of Representatives
Dr HAINES (Indi) (14:54): My question is to the Prime Minister. For the past seven weeks, the closure of the New South Wales-Victorian border has upended the lives of thousands of people. There is confusion, frustration, despair. In a national crisis, the role of the Prime Minister is to provide leadership to solve problems for all Australians, but yesterday the agriculture minister said the closures made him feel like a forgotten Australian. According to your own minister, the coalition governments in Canberra and Sydney have forgotten people in border communities. Prime Minister, what will you do as the national leader to resolve this border crisis?
Mr MORRISON (Cook—Prime Minister and Minister for the Public Service) (14:55): I thank the member for her question and I thank her for her participation in the many exchanges that have taken place by members of this place that represent border communities in New South Wales and in Victoria—but particularly those in Victoria who have been obviously more impacted, most impacted—about access to work or important medical services in South Australia or in New South Wales.
Ever since the decision was taken, which was an exception, I must say, of all the other border arrangements that have been put in place internally in this country, in New South Wales and Victoria, both premiers and I sat down—on the phone—and spoke about what needed to happen next, given the serious outbreak that was occurring in Victoria. The medical evidence supported, indeed necessitated, that firmer restrictions be put in place to contain the spread of what has clearly been the most significant outbreak of the virus that we have seen in Australia.
The restrictions that have been put in place also involved a border commissioner being established to ensure that issues as they arose could be worked through—and there have been many, as I know the member for Indi knows. That’s why I welcome, following the direct representations that have been made by the Commonwealth, including by the Minister for Agriculture, me and other ministers, the New South Wales government extending a 100-kilometre zone in Victoria which ensures that there can be greater movement coming out of Victoria into New South Wales to access those important job opportunities and medical care. Similarly, individual cases—and I have written at great length to the Premier of South Australia ensuring that particularly young people are getting direct access to hospitals in South Australia. The Premier and I are working directly together to ensure that those young kids are getting that attention when they need it.
I will continue through the national cabinet and directly through the work of the border commissioner, which members here are very familiar with, to resolve what these knotty issues are because of the establishment of that border. There are many unintended consequences, and that’s why borders, in principle, within the Federation are not a good idea, and we should avoid having them wherever we possibly can and they should only be applied when the health advice absolutely demands it.
In the case of New South Wales and Victoria that is regrettably the case. I know particularly Victorians in western and northern Victoria are frustrated that there are no cases in those areas of the community, but it is necessary for those borders to be in place so we can get past this Victorian wave. I look forward to when those borders can come down not just there but when it’s safe to do so all throughout the country.
[August 24, 2020]