Border closure challenges back in court

Aaron Bunch
Two challenges to Queensland's border closures are being aired in the Federal Court via video-link

Lawyers fighting over coronavirus border closures are having trouble agreeing on where to have a preliminary hearing because the borders are closed.

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer and business group Travel Essence have been joined by Victoria and the Commonwealth seeking to reopen the Queensland and West Australian borders, which have been closed since March.

WA's Solicitor General Joshua Thomson SC is in favour of video-link but Mr Palmer's lawyer, Peter Dunning QC, wants it heard in Canberra, where there's a "hot tub of experts".

Federal Court Justice Darryl Rangiah wondered how the border closures would affect the plan.

"I think we can leave Queensland, Mr Dunning, but will we be allowed back in?" he asked with a grin on Wednesday.

"Canberra is not a hotspot," Mr Dunning fired back.

"Queenslanders can all go to the ACT and return without difficulty because the border restriction does not fix upon ordinary residents."

Justice Rangiah agreed it was an attractive option.

"I have found it quite difficult to manage even the case management hearing by video-link," he said from his Brisbane courtroom.

Mr Thomson and Queensland's Solicitor General Sandy Thompson QC were not as enthusiastic.

We will have to take instructions, they said.

It comes a week after plans for a June High Court hearing on the state's constitutional rights to keep its borders shut was abandoned.

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel ordered the parties to the Federal Court after they could not agree on key facts about COVID-19 transmission that the hearing could be based upon.

A two-day hearing to determine these has now been set in the lower court for July 13 and 14.

However, the matter will return to the Federal Court before that for another case management hearing on July 10.