Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. The Australian community has been doing a lot of heavy lifting to ensure they stop the spread of COVID-19. This coalition government has been the envy of the world with the swift measures it took to protect the health of Australians. Can the minister update the Senate on what the government's plan is for opening our state and territory borders? If we do not, what are the implications for our economy?
I thank Senator McMahon for that important question. Our government has been working closely with state and territory governments through the national cabinet process to lift restrictions across the nation as swiftly as possible but in a way which is COVID safe. As the federal Chief Medical Officer and the deputy chief medical officer have made clear on a number of occasions, there is no medical reason for any state borders to remain closed. In fact, there is no health advice in front of us that state or territory borders need to be closed.
The closure of state borders is having a significant negative impact on our economy. With international borders closed, tourism operators will need to rely on domestic holiday-makers to fill the void from international tourists. Tourism is worth around 3.1 per cent of our GDP, or around $60 billion last financial year. In fact, the tourism sector employs around 670,000 Australians, or 5.2 per cent of all workers. That is why, the longer state and territory borders stay closed, the bigger the impact on our national economy. The clear three-stage plan to lift restrictions included borders being opened in July. The Prime Minister said that there was a very open and constructive discussion at national cabinet last Friday about reopening borders, and we are also proposing to work closely with states on a pilot basis to enable international students to come to Australia in a very controlled setting.
But clearly—this is an important point, and I think it's an important point for the people in the Territory—while travel to a state or territory is not allowed from other parts of Australia, we cannot consider travel to that jurisdiction from overseas. If we want to ensure that tourism operators and businesses around Australia have the best possible opportunity to be successful again and to hire more Australians, including more Territorians, we need to see those borders come down as swiftly as possible.
It was agreed at national cabinet on Friday that all states except WA would look at reopening their borders in July. This was in line with the national cabinet reconfirming its commitment to the three-step framework for a COVID-safe Australia to be completed in July 2020. South Australia has committed to reopening its borders from 20 July. Queensland was expected to be on track for a July reopening, although media reporting is now putting some doubt over that, based on comments from Queensland Premier Palaszczuk in the Queensland parliament today, where she said, 'The border will remain closed while there is active transmission.' The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory has indicated he will make an announcement by the end of this week. Tasmania has no date for reopening. My home state of Western Australia has indicated it will not be reopening its borders in July. The Australian government is intervening in three High Court cases that challenge the closure of the WA and Queensland state borders. The Commonwealth Attorney-General is intervening to make constitutional arguments in support of opening state borders. (Time expired)
Thanks, Senator McMahon, for another very good question. The coalition government understands the COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on some sectors, regions and communities, including those heavily reliant on industries such as tourism and agriculture. This is why we are providing a $1 billion relief and recovery fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected. That is why yesterday we announced further infrastructure investments, which included $1.5 billion for roads. These roads packages include key investments that help rural and regional Australia, such as the beef roads in Northern Queensland and the Bussell Highway in Western Australia—roads which will form vital linkage points to ports and to our key markets. There is still a long way to go in recovering from this once-in-100-year global pandemic, but we are heading in the right direction and we will continue to do all that is necessary to ensure Australians and our rural and regional economies have the best possible opportunity to return to prosperity. (Time expired)