As the Northern Territory looks to keep the hard border controls in place for at least another 18 months, and Western Australia points to a closure until at least the end of this year – experts fear drastic action taken by state leaders could be detrimental to Australia’s economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, Chief Minister Michael Gunner revealed he will keep the Territory’s border guarded until at least 2022 and recruit extra police to keep the barriers in place. His announcement comes just 24 hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that despite his “hope” COVID-19 restrictions could ease by the Christmas holidays, it’s unlikely the rules will change by summer.
“We have got an indefinite ban on Victoria, and Sydney keeps bubbling away to a point to I can’t give you a date where that would ever lift,” Mr Gunner said.
“My advice to every Territorian, if you can, stay here in the Territory. You’re safe here, don’t go.
“If you can, cancel your Christmas holiday plans, stay here in the Northern Territory.”
The Top End’s latest move comes after weeks of shutting out “hotspot” regions in, where currently anyone coming from Sydney or Victoria must complete two weeks quarantine at their own expense if they want to cross the territory’s border, and everyone must fill in a border declaration pass.
Just months ago, the Prime Minister had hoped the border restrictions would be lifted by July, a hope that now seems abandoned in the wake of the second wave in Victoria.
Speaking to news.com.au, tourism lecturer Dr David Beirman from Sydney’s University of Technology, said the announcement today – and the concept of ongoing border closures until 2022 – is a “step too far” when it comes to any form of economic recovery.
“The statement that the Northern Territory border could be closed for the next 18 months appears extreme at best,” he told news.com.au.
“One thing we have learned during this pandemic, is that changes occur rapidly and suddenly.
“Making any predictions about COVID-19 beyond the space of a few weeks is unwise at best and is likely to ensure predictors finish up eating their words when they are proven wrong or alarmist.”
Since the second wave of coronavirus cases in Victoria, the Morrison Government has eased on criticism around the border lockdowns adopted by state and territory leaders around the country.
But Dr Beirman said suggestions of hard borders for months on end, such as Mr Gunner’s announcement for the Northern Territory, is a “death knell” for Australian tourism.
“In signalling a virtual lockdown and hard borders for the NT for 18 months, the government is signalling the death knell for many of the NT’s most lucrative tourism businesses and attractions including Jabiru National Park, Uluru, the MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs and Darwin,” he said.
“The NT is the least populous mainland territory on Australia with about 300,000 people and its small population cannot maintain the viability of some of the world’s greatest tourist attractions.
“I fully respect the right of any Australian state or territory to do all they can to protect the heath of its citizens. However, flagging the sentencing of Territorians to 18 months isolation from fellow Australians and the rest of the world is a step too far.”
The Northern Territory’s tourism industry is valued at $1.2bn, employing more than 8000 people across the sector.
As a significant industry in regional areas, the Top End had seen an increase of almost 2 per cent in domestic visitors primarily driven by holiday and leisure travellers.
Dr Beirman said the border closure predictions of Mr Gunner’s nature will likely cause business owners in the sector to simply “throw in the towel”.
“All that kind of ultra-negative thinking really achieves is that a lot of businesses are likely to literally throw in the towel and abandon the Northern Territory,” he said.
“It’s a recipe for significant unemployment and a potential recipe for economic pain.”