A conference room in Parliament House on Friday is where Scott Morrison will face perhaps his toughest test yet as PM.
From there he will host a video call in which he will try to persuade state and territory leaders to end the political games and open up their borders.
The time for State of Origin politics is over – the livelihoods of millions of working Australians are now at stake.
From a conference room in Parliament House Scott Morrison (pictured) will host a video call with the state and territory leaders and try to persuade them to open their borders
Annastacia Palaszczuk’s shameless political motives for her borders were exposed when she let hundreds of AFL players, WAGs and officials waltz into Queensland. Pictured: The premier
The prime minister accepts Victoria must be sealed off due to its second wave outbreak, which is not only behind 87 per cent of all Australia’s COVID-19 deaths, but is still in an ongoing battle to contain community transmission.
But increasing movement between other states is essential to save the nation’s dying tourism industry, which employs one million workers and is set to lose a staggering $54.6billion this year due to lockdowns and border restrictions.
Greater freedom will also help farmers, residents in border towns, and hundreds of thousands of Aussie families who are trapped apart in different states.
In short, ending the border closures is the most crucial step to Australia returning to a semblance of normality in the new ‘Covid-normal’ world.
But Mr Morrison faces the mammoth task of convincing two recalcitrant premiers who are using border closures to gain votes ahead of state elections.
Queensland leader Annastacia Palaszczuk, who faces election on October 31, has closed her border to areas of New South Wales and the ACT which have no cases of coronavirus at all even though there is transmission in Brisbane.
At the same time she has adopted nationalist rhetoric, pitting her state against the rest of Australia and even declaring that Queensland hospitals are ‘for our people’.
Ten days after that comment, a mother from Ballina, near the Queensland border, lost her unborn twin after she was flown 700km to Sydney for surgery because an exemption allowing her into Queensland took too long.
Then on Wednesday, the premier’s shameless political motives were exposed when she let hundreds of AFL players, WAGs and officials waltz into Queensland after clapping and wooping when Brisbane was handed the AFL grand final scheduled for 24 October.
Queensland grandmother Jayne Brown, 60, who was made to do hotel quarantine in in Brisbane following brain surgery, said the unfairness was ‘mind-blowing’.
Passengers arrive on a charter-flight containing partners, wives and family members of AFL players at the Gold Coast Airport in July. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been accused of ‘double standards’ for letting them in while keeping out border residents
The tourism industry is terrified that Mark McGowan, who is fiercely popular in the polls, will keep the WA border shut until after the state election on 13 March. Pictured: Qantas workers protest in Canberra after losing their jobs
Meanwhile, Western Australia’s Mark McGowan has flat-out refused to open his borders to any jurisdiction, even Tasmania which has not had a single Covid case since 15 May.
The tourism industry is terrified that Mr McGowan, who in one poll recorded a 91% approval rating, will keep the border shut until after the state election on 13 March.
In August, he alluded to this timeframe, saying: ‘As to whether it’s before the end of the year, as to whether it’s before the middle of next year, I cannot put a date on it.’
Tasmania’s Peter Guttwein has also refused to open his borders, but at least he’s reviewing the situation every day and has penciled in 31 August as a potential date for relaxing the rules.
The debacle has exposed a major flaw in Australia’s federal system, which leaves the Morrison Government powerless to bring down state borders.
While Mr Morrison will have to persuade the premiers to change their minds, he does have one trick up his sleeve.
The prime minister has asked a medical expert panel to come up with a definition of a coronavirus ‘hotspot’.
This would allow him to expose premiers who are keeping their borders closed to places that scientists do not deem dangerous.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said today a hotspot will be an area that suffers a fixed number of cases over a three-day period.
Western Australia’s Mark McGowan (pictured) has flat-out refused to open his borders to any jurisdiction, even Tasmania which has not had a single Covid case since 15 May
A heavily pregnant mother was forced to wait 16 hours for emergency surgery in Sydney after being turned away at the Queensland border, before losing one of her unborn twin babies
Another option open to the prime minister is to restart travel bubble talks with Covid-safe nations such as New Zealand, Japan and the Pacific islands.
Not all states will agree to be involved, but public opinion may turn against the stricter premiers if they see fellow Australians being allowed to holiday abroad.
Until now Mr Morrison has repeatedly hailed the ‘good faith co-operation’ of the national cabinet – but his opponents deride this as spin by ‘Scotty from marketing’ and say the meetings have achieved little.
So now’s the time for the PM to put his money where his mouth is and really achieve something big.
Most observers don’t like his chances, but if he succeeds in re-opening the country, Mr Morrison could go down in history as one of Australia’s great leaders.
Australia’s strict border closures
Victoria: Completely open, but other states are banning residents from going there
NSW: Border with Victoria is closed but others are open without restriction
Queensland: Open to everywhere but Victoria, NSW, and the ACT
Northern Territory: Open to everywhere but Victoria and Sydney, which must do hotel quarantine
South Australia: Closed to Victoria, NSW arrivals must self-isolate, rest are open
Tasmania: Closed to Victoria, everywhere else must do hotel quarantine
Western Australia: Closed to everywhere without an exemption