Constant border changes make doing business interstate “impossible”: Employer groups

border-restrictions

With most states, except New South Wales, aiming for near elimination of the coronavirus, business groups say constantly changing border restrictions across the country are making it “impossible” for businesses with operations that straddle multiple states.

Following recent cases of COVID-19 in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, states are still shifting the goal posts when it comes to border rules.

On Monday evening, Victoria set up a new permit system whereby travellers must have a pass that shows whether they have been to a green, orange or red zone. Only those from green and orange zones will be able to enter the state.

Tony Melville, head of government affairs at national employer association, the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), says businesses with operations in multiple states are finding the border rules unmanageable.

“It’s making it impossible for a lot of businesses,” Melville tells SmartCompany.

Among Ai Group’s members that are struggling with border rules is a Victorian-based machinery repairs company.

“You can imagine if a very important piece of machinery at a mine breaks down and stops production, it can put people out of work for weeks potentially,” Melville says.

“Then, you can’t get people there to fix it without going through more hoops,” he explains.

It is not only machinery businesses that are affected by the piecemeal approach states are taking to manage coronavirus outbreaks.

For other businesses, border closures have made planning, travelling and searching for new business interstate unfeasible.

“It’s impossible to travel to sign new contracts, to eye-ball people you might want to do business with in the future or even talk face-to-face with them,” Melville says.

In Queensland, people are not currently allowed to enter the state if they have visited a Sydney hotspot within the past two weeks.

Australia’s most populous state, NSW, remains an outlier, as it pursues a suppression strategy and strives to keep borders open using targeted restrictions.

NSW borders are currently open to every state and territory except some parts of Queensland.

‘Cut to a trickle’

The decrease in air travel between states, particularly on the east coast, has had a ripple effect, hurting businesses that cater to corporate travellers.

“The Sydney to Melbourne airlink is among the top airlink routes in the world, and that has been cut to a trickle,” Melville says.

“So you can imagine the businesses that have been impacted by that one issue linked to border closure between those states,” he says.

Despite the challenge for businesses navigating border restrictions, Melville believes compromise among the states is simply not an option.

“When you’ve got one state that says elimination and the other that says we need to deal with it because this is going to be with us for a long time, there’s no centre ground to compromise,” he says.

“Certainty is an ambition, but it’s also more than likely an impossibility in this case,” he says.

Interstate border permits

The prospect of more border permit systems is worrying for businesses because such policies could lead to a highly regulated travel environment as the vaccine is rolled out in Australia.

“We used to travel overseas with yellow quarantine cards to show that you had all your inoculations. So, are we going to see border crossings where you need to produce a yellow vaccination card to prove you’ve had the vaccination before you’re allowed to enter?” Melville says.

“I think this year we will see less travel and just as much working from home as last year.”

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