Senior Coalition politicians have slammed Western Australia’s snap COVID lockdown as “pointless”, with dozens of Perth politicians and staff forced to isolate in Canberra just a day out from the first week of federal parliament.
WA Premier Mark McGowan put his state into a sudden lockdown on Sunday afternoon, after a virus case in a hotel quarantine worker. It was the first community transmission in the state for several months, after Mr McGowan had put up Australia’s strongest and most cautious border walls to bar much of the country from entering for much of 2020.
Home affairs minister Peter Dutton called WA’s approach “not realistic”, while NSW deputy Premier John Barilaro reckoned it was “pointless”, continuing a long-running interstate battle with Mr McGowan.
WA’s hard domestic border lock down has proved pointless. I strongly recommend the WA Premier considers adopting the NSW strategy to manage this virus – because today WA has learnt firsthand an elimination strategy is unrealistic.
— John Barilaro MP (@JohnBarilaroMP) January 31, 2021
Labor premier Mr McGowan has been in a tit-for-tat dispute with NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian for months, with the pair sniping at each other over their respective border approaches – NSW’s being less conservative, WA’s far more stringent.
Ms Berejiklian has continually called for other states to lift their tight border restrictions and take more of the load of returning travellers, with her state having carried the bulk of international arrivals and hotel quarantine since the beginning of the pandemic.
Mr Barilaro claimed WA’s hunt for COVID ‘elimination’ was “unrealistic”, and that the state was “now experiencing” the problems NSW has faced for months.
Mr Dutton, too, questioned WA’s previous border controls.
“In terms of an elimination strategy, it might be a great political slogan, it’s not a realistic approach to this virus,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.
“You will send businesses broke, the surge in domestic violence when people are in lockdown for a long period of time.”
Perth MPs forced into isolation
Mr Dutton was speaking in Brisbane, ahead of parliament beginning officially on Tuesday. But some of his WA colleagues were less lucky, being forced straight into isolation after getting off a plane in Canberra.
Many politicians and their staff from WA arrived in the nation’s capital on Sunday evening, leaving before the lockdown announcement and Mr McGowan had asked other leaders to close their borders to his state. Those onboard learned about the Perth lockdown while mid-transit, and were told to isolate until further notice.
Onboard the plane were several politicians including Attorney-general Christian Porter, defence minister Linda Reynolds, defence industry minister Melissa Price, and Labor politicians Patrick Dodson, Anne Aly and Josh Wilson.
The New Daily understands affected MPs have been told to stay away from Parliament House until further notice. ACT Health has ordered all arrivals from Perth to isolate until at least Friday, and get tested.
However, ACT Health has given WA politicians the chance to apply for an exemption to attend parliament. Similar arrangements have been in force for politicians arriving from other virus hotspots through 2021, with MPs allowed to go straight to and from parliament but required to stay in isolation at all other times.
Politicians’ staff, who also travelled from Perth, will not be granted exemptions. They will have to either fly back to WA on Monday, or stay in isolation in Canberra until at least Friday.
Politicians will have to restrict their movements to Parliament House and their accommodation. They have been told to get tested immediately, wear a mask, avoid public places like restaurants or gyms, and not use public transport.
“We were on a plane last night, and I think they had a good debate as to whether or not to turn the plane around, actually, but that didn’t happen and we landed. So the rules are the rules and we’ll abide by them,” Mr Porter told 2GB Radio on Monday.
The attorney-general also weighed in on the border restrictions debate, saying outbreaks were an “inevitability” that needed to be “managed”.
“I’ve been very consistent in praising [NSW] and your state Premier in the way that they have managed the virus. And the fact is that we have all said from the outset that you will have community outbreaks of this virus, like that looks like an inevitability over time,” Mr Porter said.
“The question is not whether you have them, the question is how you manage them. And your state has done remarkably well and your state is so important to the Australian economy, as the West Australian state is, so I wish the Premier all the best in managing the outbreak.”
“It’s just one of those things that we have to sort of go through as we roll out the vaccine.”