As some states in Australia refuse to buckle to pressure to open borders after closing them off amid the coronavirus pandemic, and expert has warned the act could be “dangerous”.
Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia continue to keep their borders closed in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus as the curve flattens throughout the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly told reporters including at a press conference on Friday that it was a state decision to close borders and not a recommendation made by the National Cabinet.
He said it was preferable to be in a situation where there were no border closures at all as that provides a boost to the tourism industry.
However, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has refused to reverse her decision to keep the borders closed during the coronavirus crisis.
She has flagged a potential July re-opening, however it would depend if there were any coronavirus outbreaks as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests, the Brisbane Times reports.
South Australia is expected to remove COVID-19 border closures on July 20, while Western Australia is still yet to budge.
WA Premier Mark McGowan has reiterated he will only bring down the border with the east when it is safe to do so.
He said a Black Lives protester in Melbourne testing positive for COVID-19 shows WA’s continued border closure is the right decision.
Northern Territory Premier Michael Gunner wrote on Facebook by the end of next week it would make weekly assessments on when border restrictions will be eased.
“The most important thing we are looking at is the rate of coronavirus transmission in the south. We already know we are safe in the Territory – we just have to be certain that everywhere else is safe too,” he said.
“They aren’t at our level yet, but they are doing better and better every day.”
Lecturer in human geography at Macquarie University, Dr Andrew Burridge, told Yahoo News Australia some issues could arise if state borders did not reopen.
He said the move by some state governments has been bold, with borders not closed in Australia since 1919 amid the Spanish Flu outbreak.
“We still think of ourselves as a nation without borders,” he said.
“And the response of the federal government and state governments have been a stark reminder we do have borders in Australia.
“They are ones we don’t need to think about most of the time and sometimes they’re not there until serious matters arise.”
Aussies stripped of freedom to move
In Australia in particular, Dr Burridge said there were many people who lived close to the state borders and travelled for work, school or medical care.
He said while borders could never actually “close”, they worked as filters to manage those going in and out.
“No matter how secure a border is – think of the Berlin Wall or the US-Mexico border – it’s still intended for people and goods to pass through and in a globalised world these things do cross.
“But in Australia state borders never actually close but the perception is all of a sudden Queensland locked itself off and completely created a powerful and confronting proposition.”
Dr Burridge said people were suddenly aware their freedom of movement had been stripped and states could possibly take it personally.
He claimed the closure of borders now compared to the Spanish Flu were more significant, as states had a higher population of residents and Australia relies on the tourism trade.
“All those matters come into play when you do start having border closures,” he said.
Using Tweed Heads on the NSW side of the border and Coolangatta just over the road on the Queensland side as an example, Dr Burridge said those people could be challenged if they needed to cross the border for certain services they usually have access to.
“In remote communities like Broken Hill, where it’s in NSW but geographically is much closer to Adelaide and South Australia, there can actually be issues that become more serious with limited access to healthcare and communities relying on particular services,” Dr Burridge said.
Why state borders can be ‘dangerous’
Dr Burridge said closing borders could have significant life or death impacts and it was rare to see positive examples of border closures.
“With closures done as a concern for people’s wellbeing, you do see examples in other countries where there is discrimination when there is concern those from the outside might be bringing in diseases,” he said.
“Whether or not that’s founded is a real concern with this global pandemic and health crisis. We’ve seen it play out on an international level with Australia not allowing flights and cruises and so fourth.”
Dr Burridge said border thinking could be “quite dangerous” because people’s values could be limited to those of the territory they are in.
“That can lead to negative feelings towards neighbours and disputes,” he said.
“With serious matters such as health pandemics that affect the entire nation, the important lesson is no one really alive has a living memory of border closures previously and previous pandemics and now should look at lessons that can be learned from this period.
“I think the danger is much in the way we think about ourselves – we identify as particularly citizenry – we start to see that come to state level with everyone across the border in NSW needing to stay out of Queensland.
“The localism could be a danger as borders create very strong emotions and can support xenophobic or racist perceptions of those on the other side of the boundary line.”
While Dr Burridge admits it would be unlikely in Australia, it provided an important moment for communities and governments in border regions to consider in future pandemics.
“Though it helped instil in Australia’s mindset that travel was not a good idea during this time,” he said.
Should state borders exist in Australia?
Dr Burridge said he usually believed state borders were unnecessary as they were very divisive and could lead to incredible hardship.
“The key examples of that is the loss of lives crossing the Mediterranean into Europe and across the desert from Mexico into the United States,” he said.
“But Australia’s state borders don’t have those implications and it is important in a territory as big as Australia we do have state representation in federal politics and are better able to respond to communities.”
Dr Burridge said it’s unlikely there would be the removal of state borders in Australia, but the closure of them showed how quickly we had come to expect free movement.
“There is a moment in which to reflect on do they serve a purpose in Australia? I think generally they impact on our lives in such a minimum sense that there’s no real need to see them removed and perhaps they have been beneficial in response to the outbreak,” he said.
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