“Closed borders cost jobs”: Businesses call for ‘travel triangle’ as Treasurer ratchets up pressure on state governments

border closures

Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Michael Gunner. AAP/James Gourley.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has ratcheted up pressure on state governments to relax their border closures over the next month saying “closed borders cost jobs”, while business groups warn tourism businesses are being sent to the wall by coronavirus lockdowns.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Thursday, Frydenberg said there was “no clear medical reason” why border restrictions in some states and territories, including Western Australia and the Northern Territory, remained in place.

“As we have success on the health front, we are starting to ease the restrictions, and it’s critically important that we maintain that momentum, that we lift those restrictions on the domestic borders. Closed borders cost jobs,” Frydenberg said.

There is no clear medical reason as to why those domestic borders should be closed. So, we need to continue to follow the medical advice, but we also need to ease those restrictions that are in place and let Australians get back to work.”

The Northern Territory and Western Australia have both maintained strict border controls in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, despite other states, such as South Australia, easing their border restrictions.

Non-essential interstate travel is now allowed to flow through South Australia, although travelers are required to self quarantine at their destination for 14 days.

The comments echoed Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who on Wednesday urged states and territories to open up by July.

Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner stood firm on the state’s border restrictions, but announced the territory will create a $5.2 million voucher scheme, encouraging territorians to travel around the state.

The program will provide vouchers of up to $200 to residents, matching their own spending.

“If you’re living in Darwin, I want you to get down the car, head down the track to Katherine, Alice, get out of the car and support locals, buy locals,” Gunner said.

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan also stood firm on his state’s border restrictions on Thursday, referencing a spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria. Eight new infections emerged in the state overnight.

“We will bring the border down at some point in the future, but not yet,” he said.

But there are suggestions restrictions could be eased without opening up to eastern states. Employer groups in South Australia and the Northern Territory  have called on legislators to create a so-called ‘travel triangle’ between the Western Australian, Northern Territory and South Australian borders.

This would represent a half-way measure, opening up each state to travel while maintaining restrictions against eastern states where the virus is more prevalent.

Business South Australia chief executive Martin Hease says border restrictions are placing a burden on businesses, and that easing restrictions would be necessary to prevent firms hitting the wall in the coming months.

Hease argues the triangle could help the tourism sector, which accounts for more than 9% of South Australia’s domestic travel market, rebound from the pandemic.

“Our proposal will provide an immediate boost to the more than 18,000 tourism business in South Australia with further knock-on benefits for other businesses such as transport, cafes and restaurants and retail stores,” Hease said in a statement.

“While we understand the need to protect South Australians from the further spread of COVID-19, the best opportunity to open our borders is with those states and territories that have flattened the curve.”

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