Despite persistent warnings from Australia’s biggest business lobby groups surrounding the serious consequences of border closures on Australians, the national cabinet failed to address concerns at its most recent sitting on Friday, prompting groups from across the country to pen a letter to the Prime Minister and members of the national cabinet.
Twenty-eight business groups in total are arguing that the “rapid and piecemeal” implementation of “complex and inconsistent” domestic border restrictions in response to COVID-19 is “impacting families, destroying jobs and crippling the Australian economy’s ability to recover from this pandemic”.
“In May, we welcomed the national cabinet’s announcement of a nationally agreed three-step COVID Safe plan — and commitment to ‘track progress against agreed precedent conditions, determine the pace of moving through the steps, and make any further decisions to move forward safely and with confidence’,” the letter reads.
“Instead, 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.
“We accept that states and territories have the right to ease — or reimpose — restrictions at a different pace based on medical advice, among other factors. However, many of the border measures imposed to date appear to be arbitrary and lacking time frames and review or end dates.”
The groups underlined that the varying domestic border controls across the country have complicated 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.”
The sectors represented in the letter also stressed that due to the absence of a co-ordinated response, employers worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis have been forced to apply significant resources to comply with rapidly changing and variable rules across the nation.
“This cannot continue unchecked,” the business groups urged.
“A transparent and easily understood set of nationally consistent principles is urgently needed. This would allow states and territories to apply a uniform set of internal border controls in response to outbreaks or changes in conditions.”
On Friday, following a sitting of the national cabinet, the Prime Minister announced that the government will soon proceed to define hotspots.
“We need a clear definition of what a hotspot is,” the PM said.
In their letter, the business lobby groups called this move “encouraging”, but urged the government to move quickly.
“We need a national framework that clearly sets out the thresholds of when internal border controls can be implemented and how they would apply. A nationally consistent set of principles across all states and territories would provide greater certainty for business and for all Australians,” the group said.
“Without an agreed framework, enormous harm will continue to be done to critical sectors of our economy, holding back Australia’s recovery from this pandemic.
“We urge you to take prompt action to resolve these border issues, for all Australians.”
The signatories to the joint letter are: