Despite widespread support for the status quo, new polling has indicated Queenslanders and South Australians want their borders to be open by Christmas, according to Sky News host Andrew Clennell.
In a refrain reminiscent of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Peter Beattie eras, Palaszczuk is “putting Queenslanders first” as the state contends with the pandemic, and the rhetoric seems to resonate. A recent Newspoll revealed 84 per cent of Queenslanders back locking down borders to arrivals from Victoria and NSW.
Palaszczuk said she would rather lose the election than bow to pressure and reopen the state’s borders before Young advised it was safe to do so.
“If it means I have to lose the election, I will risk all that if it means keeping Queenslanders safe,” she said. “I will always stand up for what I believe to be right in this state, I am putting myself out there, I am putting myself on the line.”
But an election campaign strategy underpinned by handling a pandemic can prove risky, one expert warns.
All eyes will be on Queensland in the coming weeks as 3.3 million residents prepare to decide which major party it trusts more to pull the state out of pandemic-induced recession and keep the virus at bay.
Palaszczuk, who hopes to become the state’s longest-serving Labor premier since World War II, will face off against the LNP’s Deb Frecklington on October 31. It is the first time in Australia’s federal or state political history that two female leaders will vie for the top job.
When the first COVID-19 case was found in Queensland in late January, the Liberal National Party were equal if not outright favourites to win, after Labor’s electoral bloodbath at the 2019 federal election helped secure Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “miracle” win.
Labor suffered a 4.31 per cent statewide swing and failed to win a seat outside the state’s capital. The Palaszczuk government would be annihilated if those results are repeated at state level.
Labor insiders concede the party was “in big trouble” at the start of the year, particularly in regional parts of the state, but Palaszczuk’s steady hand during the crisis has boosted her ratings.
Recent polls suggest the LNP has a slim lead on the two-party-preferred vote but it is within the margin of error. The spectre of a hung parliament has been raised in the senior ranks of the major parties, which could put (Bob) Katter’s Australian Party, the Greens, One Nation or independent MPs in the box seat.
The LNP has major hurdles to clear if it wants to govern in its own right. In a parliament with 93 MPs, the LNP must retain all its seats and pick up nine more.
It has suffered a backlash after calling for the state’s borders to reopen as a second wave of COVID-19 began to take hold in Victoria. It has also struggled with infighting.
Party president David Hutchinson recently resigned after he was linked to an attempted coup against Frecklington. There was a mass exodus from party headquarters a week ago, with treasurer Stuart Fraser and Young LNP president Nelson Savanh also resigning.
Labor’s challenges include three ministers – Kate Jones, Anthony Lynham and Coralee O’Rourke -quitting state politics in the past week. Its track record in office has been harmed by its handling of the Adani Carmichael coal mine and integrity scandals.
Former deputy premier Jackie Trad resigned from the front bench after being referred to the state’s corruption watchdog twice in 12 months, despite being cleared on both occasions. Labor’s attempts to “walk the tightrope” on Adani were blamed for the party’s thumping at last year’s federal election.
Labor’s former state secretary Anthony Chisholm, who now represents Queensland in the federal Senate, was the architect of Palaszczuk’s historic 2015 election win.
He expects Labor’s campaign to focus strongly on the government’s pandemic management credentials and feature the Premier front and centre in a presidential-style campaign.
“I have got no doubt she will be a pivotal figure,” he says.
While a pandemic-focused strategy saw Labor’s Michael Gunner retain government in the Northern Territory last month, University of Queensland political expert Chris Salisbury says it was fraught with risk.
“If there is a downturn in Queensland’s management of the pandemic and we have more than just these small isolated outbreaks, then that… could turn against them,” he says.
“I think the Premier is probably, reasonably, banking on the popularity she enjoys at the moment influencing the way the party campaigns and also the result.
“But the Premier plays a risky game just sitting back and hoping the crisis conditions are going to be enough to see her and the party carried over the line.
“I think people in larger numbers will begin to question just what’s going to be done on the other side [of the pandemic].”
The pandemic has not only shaken up what was already expected to be a tight race but also changed the machinery of this election.
Pre-poll locations will be increased and phone voting will be ramped up in the fortnight preceding October 31 and voters will be told to bring their own pencil to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Electoral Commission Queensland has been given the power to move entire electorates to a postal vote if there is an outbreak of COVID-19.
Queensland’s March council elections and two state government byelections were held during a surge in COVID-19 cases. Of the 2.5 million votes across the state, more than 1 million were cast at pre-poll booths. Another 570,000 votes were mailed in and 37,000 were cast over the phone.
Candidates were forbidden from handing out how-to-vote cards and other cornerstones of campaigning – handshaking, baby-kissing and sausage sizzles – will also be avoided.
Candidates challenging incumbents have had a difficult time building their profiles during lockdowns and have capitalised on social media.
Labor’s candidate for Chatsworth, which covers the south-eastern suburbs of Brisbane, is Lisa O’Donnell. She has been ringing around homes across the electorate to introduce herself.
“I’ve also found that our more mature-aged volunteers who are in the vulnerable category have taken to online campaigning,” she says.
“For example, we’ve relied heavily on Zoom meetings to keep them up to date on all our campaigning ideas and stories.”
Janet Wishart, the LNP’s candidate for the marginal south-east Brisbane seat of Mansfield, sent a team of volunteers to conduct welfare checks on vulnerable residents.
“We did things like shopping but also helping the oldies who were feeling vulnerable at home, who needed security lights up,” Wishart says.
Griffith Business School’s Dr Ferran Martinez i Coma says the local government elections in the state had been a valuable test for election procedures.
“There were calls to postpone but the ECQ defended its decision on the grounds that elections are an essential service for the continuity of democratic representation. In retrospect their health risk assessment was right – there was no spike in new cases following the election,” he says.
Martinez i Coma says that while banning how-to-vote cards had been a minor change, “in some key seats where strategic voting really matters, these how-to-vote cards can be critically important”.
“We also saw social distancing guidelines granted under special authority to the ECQ limit candidates to just one election monitor each,” he says.
“The stakes will be much higher in the state election and any similar measures may become political flashpoints.”
Lydia Lynch is Queensland political reporter for the Brisbane Times
The Tasmanian Government will consider bringing forward the date for easing coronavirus border restrictions to the end of October.
- Premer Peter Gutwein said Tasmania might open the borders to some states by the end of October
- He said the easing of the previous December 1 date would depend on advice
- From next week, crowd capacity will increase from 500 to 1000.
Premier Peter Gutwein said travellers from safe jurisdictions may be able to enter the state, if approved by the State Controller, earlier than December 1 — the previous date the Tasmanian Government had been sticking to.
“We are not declaring that we will open early [but] I think there is a good chance we would be able to open towards the end of the month [of October],” he said.
Mr Gutwein also said Tasmania wasn’t in a position to receive flights including Australians returning from overseas because it didn’t have an international airport.
He said his Government would make a financial contribution to flights into other states and, if required, would work with the Commonwealth on “bespoke options” such as emergency charter flights into Tasmania.
Mr Gutwein also announced crowd capacity at outdoor venues such as sporting grounds would increase from 500 to 1000 from September 25, as long as COVID-19 safety plans were in place.
From midnight on September 20, Tasmanian FIFO workers in low-risk jurisdictions would be allowed to come home without quarantining.
From next week, seasonal workers would also be allowed to enter the state under “COVID-safe conditions” to help on the state’s farms.
More to come.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, tourism and business groups express their growing frustration over blanket state border closures they see as driven by politics not health advice.
- Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is calling for more transparency and a science-based approach to state border closure decisions
- Tourism groups told a Senate committee they believe that many state border closures are politically motivated
- Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would not “bend” to demands from the Qantas boss
Speaking after the release of his company’s annual financial results, which showed a $2 billion loss due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Joyce expressed his frustration at how decisions to close state borders, or keep them closed, were being made.
“At the moment there are no rules around how borders are going to close and going to open,” he told reporters.
“Nobody has an issue with the international borders being closed — that’s protected Australia. Nobody’s had an issue with the borders to Victoria being closed.
“But it’s very clear that we don’t have clear guidelines for when the borders will open, when they will close.
“So we have this situation where there are large numbers of states and territories that have zero cases and they’re not even open to each other.”
Elections and polls ‘driving decisions’
Jenny Lambert from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the feeling among businesses has been that many premiers and chief ministers are making border decisions for political, not health, reasons.
“There are decisions being made on the basis of what they perceive the community wants”, she told a federal Senate committee hearing, noting upcoming elections in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
“We’ve seen even opinion polls driving those decisions so, whether it’s an election or whether its opinion polls, premiers or first ministers are making decisions which for tourism businesses are immensely frustrating because they don’t understand the health reasons.
It is a sentiment shared by Simon Westaway, the executive director of the Tourism Industry Council.
“We have to get super serious about how we’re going to address this border conundrum that we are now facing,” he told the same committee.
“We have the NT poll this weekend, if we have to wait until the Queensland poll so be it.
“[But] I don’t think we should be dictated to by public polls [or] elections in terms of whether or not we have open border arrangements.”
State border closures ‘will cost jobs’
Mr Joyce is also concerned that regional politics is trumping both health and the economy, with around a million jobs dependant on tourism.
“It feels like there’s no reality based decisions, it’s just maybe the politics, and we think that, eventually, will cost jobs and [causes] businesses, particularly a lot of the small businesses in Queensland, to go out of business,” he said.
In pointed comments that appeared directed at Tasmanian Peter Gutwein and Queensland’s leader Anastasia Palaszczuk, who recently said that their state’s borders were unlikely to open until December or after Christmas respectively, Mr Joyce noted that around a third of jobs in some areas of their states were dependent on tourism.
“Blanket comments that say, ‘The borders will not be open’, even if Victoria gets down to no cases or New South Wales gets back to no cases, is that still the situation?” Mr Joyce asked rhetorically.
“Surely these decisions should be based on the facts, the health advice and the level of cases we’re seeing around the various states.”
Palaszczuk won’t ‘bend to anyone’
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk responded, saying she would not “bend” to demands from the Qantas boss on her decision to close the state’s borders to NSW, Victoria and the ACT.
“The national strategy needs to be focusing on Victoria to get all their cases under control, and NSW, to [let] all of Australia to open up,” she said.
But when asked whether he supported Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge to Western Australia’s blanket border closure, Mr Joyce said he would rather a more cooperative approach.
“Our preference would be that National Cabinet, the states and the premiers, the chief medical officers, the Federal Government can define a plan that everybody agrees to, I think that’s the best way of doing these things,” he responded.
“I think you’d rather do this with everybody wanting it to happen and everybody working to get a scientific-based solution.”
Mr Joyce said transparent, evidence-based decisions were all businesses were asking for.
“If it’s safe to do it, it should be open,” he said.
“I think a lot of businesses would be very happy if it was science-based and very clear.
“If there is an explanation about why states that have zero cases are closed to states with zero cases then let’s get that on the table.”
Commenting on the story: Revealed: Anglican Church seeks $35m taxpayer funds for Adelaide cathedral revamp
It’s encouraging to see a bold vision for St Peter’s Cathedral and North Adelaide.
The proposal provides some interesting and thought provoking opportunities for development of this precinct. It provides the catalyst for a robust debate about what the South Australian community’s priorities are in relation to arts and recreation facilities in what has the potential to be the premier precinct in our city.
At a time when government is seeking to stimulate the economy it is also great to have a vision that involves building construction, with building projects creating broader employment opportunities and creating in the order of ten times the number of jobs than a civil works project of the same value.
Other opportunities for stimulus spending include social and affordable housing and community facilities that promote social support and interaction. This is critical at a time when significant sectors of the community are experiencing social isolation, housing issues and financial stress.
I note that the architects involved in the development of the Cathedral proposal are incorrectly stated as Melbourne based. Woods Bagot commenced practice in South Australia 151 years ago and the people named in connection with the project are located in South Australia. While Woods Bagot have grown into a global practice, they maintain a studio in SA. Let’s acknowledge this great SA success story. – Nicolette Di
I am totally opposed to using taxpayer money on this project.
1. Churches do not pay rates or taxes.
2. Churches should be self-funded or sell their assets to raise money. If not, then close and convert the building into another profitable use. e.g. concert hall, wedding venue etc.
3. 50% of the population are non-believers, with the remainder of different beliefs, non attendees etc. Times are changing. – Antony Leahy
In regard to Lucas’s comment: “As with all proposals, the Government will consider it but my personal view is it would have to be a fairly high threshold to be putting $35 million into a cathedral.”
From the way the report describes the cathedral proposal, it’s adding wide and attractive cultural value to the area from the CBD into North Adelaide. Ie, it isn’t putting it ‘into a cathedral’.
It would be good if the State Government based their decision on the big picture. – Cathy Chua
I am opposed to the State or Federal Government giving money to the Anglican Church for this project.
They could sell some of the many properties that have been left to them over the years, to raise the money required. – Douglas Matthews
On the sheer cheek of the Anglos to ask the people to pay for their gleaming spires, I have nothing to say.
I limit myself to your remark that Col. Light intended the Anglican Cathedral to be built in Victoria Square. Don’t believe heritage architects. They make lousy historians.
Col. Light intended a non-denominational church to be erected in the Square. The chief objectors were the Anglicans. They didn’t want to share. (Except with the Quakers. But that’s another story.) The Dissenters weren’t thrilled, either. (The Catholics were not, of course, asked. But guess where their Cathedral is?)
Lights’ idea died with him in 1839. Amen. The large red Maltese cross in the centre of a very early engraved plan of Adelaide was subsequently read to refer to the one-and-only-truly-Christian-church-anywhere, viz. the Church-of-England-because-the-rest-don’t-count.
I recall John Tregenza remarked on this scenario in Collegiate School of St. Peter Adelaide : the founding years 1847-1878 (1996), or else something might be in his papers at the State Library: PRG 1336. He certainly told me the gist of this when we last met, running into each other on North Terrace. A fine fellow. A real historian.
I’ve never seen Light’s particular vision reliably contradicted. Contradicted, sure. Not reliably, I say.– Peter Moore
The recent politicking by the members of the SA Upper House indicate that we need a referendum to abolish the Legislative Council.
The current members and likely candidates for the 2020 election would be the only people in favour of retaining it. – Bill Hecker
Commenting on the opinion piece: Federalism, state rights and the law
I do not doubt that the economy will be very poor because of the coronavirus, but people will prefer to be alive and poor than rich and dead. – David Lines
Mr Bailes wrote an opinion piece in this same publication on 4 June 2020 which took, at best, an equivocal view on the legality and justification for border closures.
I wrote a fairly detailed comment (which, not surprisingly, was not published) which was critical of Mr Bailes for failing to use his platform and his standing in the legal community to actually take a position on border closures at that early stage.
Doing so now, after the proverbial horse has bolted, is tantamount to picking lotto numbers after the draw. Social media is filled with objections to Victoria’s draconian measures, and the Prime Minister has already made his position clear, so taking this position now is basically devoid of any risk.
An objective (and importantly, fear free) analysis of the reasons for border closures would have immediately highlighted that those closures were not based on sound policy or law.
The Australian Constitution contains precious few positive rights, but Mr Bailes correctly states in his 4 June 2020 opinion that one of them is the freedom of interstate commerce, enshrined in section 92.
Once that is established, the analysis is not controversial. If a law impedes interstate commerce, it is prima facie invalid, and will only be “un-invalidated” if the legislature can establish that the infringement is simply an incidental burden in pursuit of a legitimate aim (Cole v Whitfield; per Brennan J).
In SA, we have a “hard border” with Victoria, save for specified categories of persons but, for all relevant purposes, SA has determined that no one from Victoria will be permitted to enter SA.
It is important to note that this prohibition applies to a person by virtue of being Victorian. There are no additional qualifying factors. For example, that Victorian need not have come from a “hotspot” suburb, or be awaiting the results of a Covid test, or have lived with someone who is. It is unashamedly discriminatory based only on the fact that person resides in Victoria.
Constitutionally, that law must be invalid, but is there a “legitimate aim” that might save it? Quite obviously, we are told it is to stop transmission of COVID-19.
However, in order to transmit, that Victorian must actually have the virus. A blanket ban, as SA has, is predicated on an assumption that there is a material chance that everyone in Victoria is infected. That assumption has got to be based on sound evidence, or else there can be no “legitimate aim“.
The numbers simply do not support that assumption, nor has it ever been capable of doing so. As of today, Victoria’s total cumulative cases is about 19,600. Of these, all but about 2,000 have recovered, so Victoria currently has approximately 2,000 active cases (that is, Victoria currently has 2,000 people that are capable of transmitting COVID-19).
Victoria’s population is approximately 6.4 million people. To put that in perspective, active cases currently comprise 0.03% of Victoria’s population, meaning that any given Victorian that approaches the SA border has a 99.97% chance of being Covid-free.
Even if all Victoria’s total cases were to exist at the same time, that would mean that 0.3% of Victoria’s population was infected, and means that any Victorian approaching the SA border has a 99.7% chance of not being infected. Still miniscule. That is not even accounting for the fact that, according to the WHO, COVID-19 has an approximately 17% infection rate, meaning that you have a 17% chance of catching COVID-19 even if you come into contact with an infected person.
If you were to apply that percentage, the probability that a given Victorian entering SA will infect an SA person, is approximately 0.005%. Put another way, you would have a 99.995% chance of not catching COVID-19 from a Victorian entering SA.
In short, SA’s blanket border closures are designed to prevent an occurrence that has a 0.005% chance of occurring. To put that in perspective, getting struck by lightning at any time in your entire life, is more than 10 times more likely.
On this basis, it seems inconceivable that SA’s hard border with Victoria is legally justified. The only rational explanation for SA’s continuing border closures is fear.
It is the responsibility of those in leadership positions in the legal profession (let alone our political leaders) to clearly and unequivocally call out such irrational fear-based lawmaking, and not simply to skirt around the issue. – Edwin Fah
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All job advertisements will stipulate the requirement that candidates must live in or be willing to move to WA for the duration of their employment.
The company has offered financial assistance for interstate employees to temporarily relocate to WA, which has resulted in over 800 employees moving to the state.
The resources giant also offered incentives for employees already on the books willing to move to WA permanently.
Premier Mark McGowan has been on record urging resources companies to do more to move workers to WA or to employ WA workers first.
He said BHP had set a new benchmark for the rest of the industry, and encouraged other mining companies to follow.
Mr McGowan said the move would have a positive impact across the state’s economy, with more income generated from mining staying in WA.
“It means more West Australians will be employed in our resources industry,” he said.
“I look forward to more people making WA their home, just like I did when I was in the Navy and relocated to WA.
“We don’t believe flying in workers from over east is sustainable any longer.”
After the state closed its borders in April, the industry was forced to negotiate travel exemptions and strict quarantines for its interstate workers.
“This is the time for the resources industry to rethink the way it employs workers in WA and move interstate workers here,” Mr McGowan said.
“WA workers should be first in line for WA jobs. There are many West Australians that can perform the roles needed in the sector.”
Mr McGowan has asked the federal government to assist in helping it fill jobs in regional areas while the WA border is closed, calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to allow West Australians to keep their JobKeeper payments if they take up employment outside of major population centres.
Nathan is WAtoday’s political reporter and the winner of the 2019 Arthur Lovekin Prize for Excellence in Journalism.
Hamish Hastie is WAtoday’s business reporter.
Victoria and the rest of Australia continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Western Australia has refused to sign up to Scott Morrison’s plan to reopen state borders by Christmas while Queensland has expressed reservations after the prime minister declared most states and territories had backed the goal.
The prime minister emerged from a national cabinet meeting on Friday saying that WA was the only jurisdiction not to give in-principle support to the plan to ease restrictions – although he also conceded more work was needed on the definition of a coronavirus hotspot.
Later in the evening, the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, emphasised she had not signed up to Canberra’s hotspot definition and said she agreed with WA that “our borders protect our health and our economy”.
A source subsequently told the Guardian that Queensland was comfortable with the ambition to ease restrictions by Christmas – something WA didn’t embrace – but the hotspot definition remained a sticking point.
Morrison played down dissent in the Friday meeting, saying the national cabinet needed to ditch the aim of total consensus on all issues because “that sets the federation up to fail” and “Australia is too diverse a place”.
The prime minister also flagged further talks with the states, territories and airlines to consider increasing the number of Australians able to return home from overseas, amid concerns that the strict caps have left thousands of Australians stranded.
Morrison had gone into Friday’s meeting seeking to build support for the replacement of state border closures with localised restrictions and exclusions of smaller subsets of the population based on a common definition of a hotspot.
He said he welcomed seven out of eight states and territories agreeing to revive but modify the national cabinet’s three-step reopening plan that originally had a July deadline for easing restrictions.
“The virus prevented us from achieving that. Seven out of eight states and territories want us to get back to that position in December of this year,” he said.
The acting chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, has drawn up a proposed definition of a coronavirus hotspot: more than 30 new cases in a consecutive three day period in metro areas, or nine cases in rural or regional areas.
Morrison said it was “a good starting point” but conceded that it would “take some time to get that right” in discussion with the states and territories.
“The idea of ultimately moving beyond a situation where you have hard borders, but you move to a situation where you can have a workable hotspot concept … that is something we are going to give it our best possible go to define and to make work.”
The new plan would be different from the old plan because it would not simply define when cafes could reopen, he said.
It would detail how testing regimes would work, how outbreaks would be managed, and the availability of passenger manifests for people flying around the country. It would require the open sharing of Covid-19 case data among the states and territories.
He played down the fracture in the national cabinet, saying the group of federal, state and territory leaders was “practical” and “not everyone has to get on the bus for the bus to leave the station”.
“I’m not going to hold Australia back when one or two jurisdictions, at this point in time because of their own circumstances, don’t wish to go along with the path that the country is seeking to go in.”
The WA premier, Mark McGowan, showed absolutely no sign of relaxing the state’s border policies at a media conference on Friday afternoon, crediting them for the state’s economic recovery and saving lives.
Western Australia “will not be agreeing to a hotspot model … which replaces our successful border controls”, McGowan said. Those border controls would stay in place “as long as the health advice recommends it”.
McGowan refused to set a timeline to remove the hard border with exemptions, suggesting it would require “the elimination of community spread in the east”.
“If we [reopened] too soon it could be deadly, and there would be economic devastation. That would result in the reintroduction of restrictions. That would possibly mean reintroducing, again, a hard border. It would mean people would die.”
McGowan quoted at length from Justice Darryl Rangiah’s findings in Clive Palmer’s constitutional challenge that bans on travel from hotspots would be “less effective” than the near-total border closure.
While McGowan said that he “feels for” people separated from their family members, he noted that Western Australia did not have border communities and so did not experience the same “social disruption” as the east coast.
Another area of disagreement within national cabinet was on a new agricultural code aimed at allowing freer cross-border movement for rural workers. The code was adopted by five out of eight states and territories, but rebuffed by Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.
National cabinet also agreed that there was a need to boost the capacity to accept Australians who were seeking to come home from abroad, Morrison said.
It follows the release of figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier this week that there are now about 23,000 Australians wanting to return, up from 18,800 a fortnight ago.
Morrison said New South Wales had been doing the heavy lifting on international arrivals and suggested other Australian cities, bar Melbourne, could field more passengers, if commercial operators agreed to fly there.
Morrison said he had also spoken with New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, on Friday , offering to allow New Zealanders to come to Australia under the hotspot approach, irrespective of whether New Zealand reciprocates the offer.
A spokesperson for Ardern said New Zealand remains committed to the establishment of a quarantine-free travel zone with Australia, as soon as it is safe to do so.
“With some states in Australia still reporting community cases, as well as community cases in Auckland, now is not the time to risk opening our border, but we will continue to work with Australia on this so we are ready to go once it is deemed safe.”
Earlier, Palaszczuk told reporters the debate about state borders had been “intense” and “intimidating” but she would “not give in to intimidation”.
She said Queensland had “done extremely well by relying on the expert health advice” of the state’s chief health officer and would not change course anytime soon.
On Friday, Victoria recorded 81 new Covid-19 cases and 59 new deaths – all but one in aged care – including 50 people who had died in July and August.
The chief health officer, Brett Sutton, explained the spike was a result of “reconciliation” of data and “complex” reporting requirements. He rejected claims late reporting was the result of Victorian health authorities being overwhelmed as “completely inaccurate”.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, noted positive trends – the number of active cases across the state (2,060) was “stabilising and indeed falling” and the number in regional Victoria under stage 3 restrictions was down to 124.
But Sutton said although the seven-day average of new cases was decreasing, it remained “stubborn”. Sutton conceded Victoria was not on track to reach its target of 40 or 50 new cases a day by week’s end, but “could” still get there.
In New South Wales, just eight new cases were recorded – one in hotel quarantine and seven linked to known cases.
The Victorian government extended the rent and eviction moratorium to 28 March, 2021, increased rent relief grants to $3,000 and eased eligibility criteria.
Ahead of the release of Victoria’s roadmap out of lockdown on Sunday, the Victorian construction union put pressure on Andrews to include construction in plans to ease lockdown restrictions.
Andrews cautioned the business community against calls to open faster and sooner, warning a “safe and steady” easing is the “only option”. Otherwise, “five minutes of sunshine” would result in a spike in cases and a return to tighter restrictions.
That old adage “never get between a premier and a bucket of money” has become ‘never get between a premier and a COVID election’.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, two months from polling day, has been acting with the sort of single-minded political determination and ruthlessness that Scott Morrison might identify with in more normal circumstances.
As the national accounts this week confirmed, Australia is in the deepest recession since the 1930s Great Depression, the Prime Minister, desperate to speed the economy’s reopening, struggled to bring maximum pressure on premiers on matters over which he has no formal power.
At the start of the week, the Federal Government had two immediate aims for the following days: to force Victoria to provide a roadmap out of its lockdown, and to have the states at Friday’s National Cabinet agree to a COVID “hotspot” definition to pave the way for borders to re-open. (At present Queensland, which excludes people from hotspots, defines all of NSW and the ACT as hotspots, as well as Victoria.)
In the wake of a work over from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced he’d outline a map this Sunday. How encouraging it is remains to be seen.
While several premiers have been recalcitrant about their borders, Palaszczuk has been in the Morrison Government’s particular sights — as well as those of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Medical and other hardship cases, exacerbated by confusion and delays, have brought sharp attacks on the Queensland Government, including from the PM. Queensland reacted by saying it would set up a unit in its health department to smooth the processes.
But Palaszczuk will campaign on keeping Queenslanders safe and in general her border toughness has served her well politically, according to polling on the issue. Her defence of it this week was defiant.
It’s a different story in Victoria
Paradoxically, Morrison finds Andrews personally easier than Palaszczuk to deal with. That’s despite the fact the Victorian Government’s bungling on quarantine and inadequacies in contact tracing have caused much more damage nationally than has Queensland’s border policy.
The relationship seems to endure the regular touch-ups the Federal Government gives Victoria. Berejiklian has also found Palaszczuk difficult.
Maybe this is a personality thing, but it’s also likely driven by the tensions around Queensland’s imminent election. Palaszczuk is totally focused on survival.
As Morrison prepared to take the hotspot proposal to the national cabinet, the Federal Government wound back its ambition.
The hotspot discussion was just the beginning of a process, was the official word. Morrison called Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan on Thursday morning and indicated the Federal Government was not seeking to take down the WA border — the feds are now saying WA is different in that it has no border towns.
By Thursday, Queensland and Western Australia had already pre-empted the meeting.
McGowan, with an election in March, declared, “We’re not going agree to bring down the border”, saying the hotspot approach was not as effective. Queensland suggested it would want to see 28 days of no community transmission before it rethought its position on NSW.
It was of no political use but the Government did receive support on the issue from an unexpected source. Paul Keating, asked about borders in an interview on the ABC, said: “I basically don’t agree with border closures anywhere. It is a national economy and the economy’s going to be stronger if people can move. Unless you had big emergencies — and we had an emergency on the NSW-Victorian border which is now abated broadly I think — the case for keeping border closures … is a very poor case.”
AFL triumph for Palaszczuk
Palaszczuk has used her border policy in a campaign to secure the AFL grand final for Brisbane, an effort that paid off this week.
The big match will be at Brisbane’s Gabba ground before a crowd of 30,000 — a week before polling day.
It is not just those in Melbourne who are upset. Palaszczuk’s critics, including the federal Nationals, piled on to accuse her of according the footballers and their executives privileges in their “hub” while ordinary people suffered.
Regardless, Palaszczuk will do everything to protect this AFL triumph. Her worst nightmare would be having to cancel the crowd because of a serious COVID outbreak.
Parliament done until October
Meanwhile the federal MPs from Queensland who attended the just-ended fortnight parliamentary sitting are headed into 14 days of home quarantine (at least they escape being confined in hotels).
The sitting (the first with a “virtual” component) concluded with a distinctly fractious final couple of days.
After the Government gagged debate on its tertiary fees legislation in the House of Representatives, Labor engaged in retributive disruption on a range of issues. The Government had wanted to ram the education legislation through this week but the Senate has forced a short inquiry, reporting later in the month.
Morrison will be glad to see the back of the Parliament, which doesn’t meet again until the October 6 budget. The Government secured the extension of its JobKeeper program for six months until the end of March, but the parliamentary setting gave Labor a platform to prosecute its argument that the rate should not be phased back.
Labor also used the sitting for a sustained attack over aged care, which culminated in the Senate censuring the hapless minister, Richard Colbeck. Morrison dismissed the motion by pointing out this had happened quite often to ministers over the years.
As the Government hunkers down to drafting its budget, it’s hard to recall a more difficult one to frame, even in the global financial crisis.
The national accounts told us growth was a negative 7 per cent in the June quarter (6.3 per cent annually) but that’s a snapshot of the past. The present and the future involve real time measurements and judgements that have to be made on inadequate information. The Victorian situation is a wildcard.
The scale-down of JobKeeper after September will see some struggling businesses decide their future, but the Government won’t have a full picture when it signs off on the budget.
But there’s a trickier challenge
The most elusive challenge is how to generate confidence.
The national accounts showed household income actually rose in the quarter, thanks to the huge amount of government cushioning, but consumption plunged.
This is hardly surprising. Apart from shutdowns and travel restrictions reducing the opportunity to spend, when huge numbers of workers are unemployed or at risk of losing their jobs, many retirees are finding their income squeezed, and the future is unclear, people will be conservative with their money. Savings rose in the quarter.
The budget is expected to bring forward already legislated tax cuts as one incentive to get spending going — although quite a lot of this money could be saved.
Anxious to fan the weak flames of hope, Morrison this week talked repeatedly about the country reaching some sort of COVID-safe normality by Christmas. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, his message to fellow leaders was, “We need to come together, we need to ensure that we are clear with Australians, that we will seek to make Australia whole again by Christmas.”
We’ll see whether that’s optimistic. But Palaszczuk, if she is returned at the election, may become more amenable after October to southerners travelling to Queensland for the festive season. At least, that’s the theory.
Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.