Premier Mark McGowan defends hard border as $223 million for WA roads unveiled

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has defended the state’s hard border amid a spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria.

His comments came as the State Government embarked on a spate of jointly-funded road projects brought forward to support jobs.

A total of $223 million will be invested in a suite of road projects across the state, from Exmouth to Toodyay, through a combination of federal and state government funding.

The infrastructure package is expected to support more than 1,000 construction jobs, with work expected to commence before the end of the year.

“We believe we can commence work on all of these projects in the next three to six months,” Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said.

The Federal Government will commit $176 million to the package — including $80 million for regional road upgrades — with the State Government contributing $47 million.

The upgrades will include parts of the Great Eastern Highway, Exmouth Road and Toodyay Road.

Work to convert a 17-kilometre stretch of the Bussell Highway into a dual carriageway — from Capel Bypass to Busselton — will be brought forward, as well as upgrades to tourist roads near Exmouth.

Dual lanes on Thomas Road in Perth, between Kwinana Freeway and Nicholson Road, will also be extended by one kilometre.

WA has more freedom ‘by miles’, Premier says

Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria, Mr McGowan confirmed WA’s hard border would remain in place for now.

Premier Mark McGowan and Transport Minister Rita Saffioti say millions will be spent improving the safety of regional roads.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

“I think because we’re isolated here in Western Australia, people don’t really understand that our freedoms within our state, economically, are far greater than in any other state in Australia by miles,” he said.

“I mean, if you want to go into a cafe or restaurant in the eastern states, you cannot get [anywhere] near as many people in as a cafe, restaurant or pub in Western Australia.

“Our very low rates of infection and our hard borders have allowed us to open up the economy far more than any other state and I think we are very lucky to be in this position.”

However, at the same press conference Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann reiterated the Commonwealth’s calls for WA to reopen its interstate border.

Mathias Cormann stands at an outdoor press conference next to Rita Saffioti and Mark McGowan.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the Federal Government’s medical advice suggested the WA border could be safely opened.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

“We don’t believe that there is a case for those borders to remain. That is the medical advice for us nationally,” Senator Cormann said.

“You don’t see that there is any issue in New South Wales as a result of localised outbreaks in Victoria.”

Football hub a possibility

Mr McGowan also said the State Government was open to having a football hub in WA, provided there were “proper health arrangements”.

“If they’d like to have a hub here on the basis that it’s safe, with the appropriate quarantine, well then we’ll obviously entertain that,” he said.

“We are the safest place, I think, in Australia — maybe even the safest place in the world — so clearly if there is a hub arrangement, we have to have the very best of quarantine in place, but we’re happy to have a hub as long as the arrangements are secure.

“What’s going on in Australia today is bigger than football, and football needs to understand that the health and welfare of our citizens is paramount.”

AFL chief counsel Andrew Dillon confirmed the league remained in talks with the WA Government about quarantine rules, which would currently see West Coast and Fremantle quarantined in hotels on their return to Perth.

The Eagles have been vocal about their desire for players to quarantine in their own homes when they return, if they are required to remain on the Gold Coast beyond round five.

“I understand from my discussions with West Coast and also Fremantle … what the players and staff would really like is some certainty,” Mr Dillon told ABC Grandstand’s Sunday Footy Forum.

“That’s why we’re hopeful of the discussions that we’re having with the WA Government, that we can have enough certainty there that we can give West Coast and Fremantle some certainty as to how long they will stay in Queensland, and what it will look like for them when they come back to WA.”

The AFL said it also expected the WA Government to provide details about how games in the state would proceed, and the quarantine rules that would be in place.

One new COVID-19 case

WA recorded one new COVID-19 case overnight, bringing the state’s total number to 605.

The new case is related to overseas travel.

Mr McGowan said the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in Victoria was a concern for the entire country.

“Clearly what’s happened in Victoria means that we’ll take that into account in any decisions that we make, but like everyone I’m very worried,” he said.

“Once [outbreaks] get out of control, people can die and I don’t want to see that come here.”

Mr McGowan said he understood some people wanted to see the border come down, but he was focused on the health of West Australians.

“Western Australia as an island within an island has managed these things certainly better than the east coast and we’ve ensured the health and safety of our citizens,” he said.

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