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Business pushing hard to open state borders during coronavirus, but leading economists urge caution

September 8th, 2020 | | jobs

Business groups pressuring politicians to reopen state borders quickly should not ignore the health and economic benefits of the coronavirus lockdowns, two leading economists say.

Key points:

  • Tourism executives sign open letter calling on state leaders to reopen borders quickly
  • They claim the latest border closures have permanently damaged the domestic tourism industry
  • Economists say calls for state borders to reopen must not ignore the health and economic benefits of some restrictions

But calls for a more nationally coherent approach to state border closures and reopenings do have merit, they added.

High-profile executives in the tourism industry have become the latest group of employers to call on state and territory political leaders to reopen state borders to allow interstate travel to resume.

In an open letter on Thursday, hundreds of tourism representatives, including Flight Centre Travel Group chief executive Graham Turner and Helloworld Travel executive director and chief executive Cinzia and Andrew Burnes, implored state political leaders to stop making ad hoc policy changes around border crossings, saying the uncertainty it was creating was having a devastating effect on the domestic tourism industry.

They have asked state and territory governments to work together quickly to install efficient screening protocols for travellers on borders so interstate travel can resume “in a safe and sustainable manner”.

“The events of recent weeks, in particular the ongoing changes to policies around borders and access to interstate travellers, have resulted in crippling uncertainty among tourism operators and would-be travellers alike,” the open letter said.

“Guests who had previously been prepared to postpone travel have now cancelled in light of the latest announcements on long-term border closures.

“Fundamentally, we have seen these decisions erode confidence in the domestic tourism product and foresee serious, long-term damage to Australian tourism as a result.

“We need interstate borders to remain open. We need certainty that domestic travel is accessible so that Australians can recommence making travel plans and so we can get employees and businesses back to work.”

Complaint follows Business Council push

The complaint from tourism operators comes days after the Business Council of Australia — and more than 20 other business lobby groups — called for a national framework to govern how state border controls were being applied.

“What has emerged is a patchwork of inconsistent state and territory-based rules that ignore the reality of the way small and large businesses operate across borders and Australians live their lives,” the groups said in a joint statement this week.

“The administration of domestic border controls varies significantly across the country with massive differences in processes for border pass applications, quarantine requirements, and essential worker/traveller exemptions.

“This has caused unintended consequences and exposed Australians to unnecessary risk. It has also significantly impacted on health services, local communities, supply chains, and the ability of businesses to safeguard and create jobs.”

Those sentiments echo calls last week from Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce for a transparent “rules-based” approach to border closures based on scientific evidence, not politics.

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) also applauded the recent decision by National Cabinet to develop a national Agricultural Worker Movement Code to facilitate the safe interstate movement of agricultural workers during the COVID-19 lockdowns, so farmers could still get workers when they needed them.

The BCA and the NFF have been warning that much economic damage has resulted from piecemeal state border closures, though neither organisation has supplied data to support their arguments.

They said they had been relying on what they were hearing from their members.