Border closures affecting regional towns have become a “flashpoint for our federation” that the federal government wants solved.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with state and territory leaders on Friday as the national cabinet grapples with a recession-hit economy and anomalies in the way borders are being managed.
Meanwhile an inquiry into Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine will on Friday hear from a security guard who worked at two hotels and a Human Services employee who quit over safety fears.
Businesses and farm groups have queried border restrictions on large parts of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia that have no COVID-19 cases.
As well, there have been concerns raised about the inflexibility of rules preventing people who live near borders from accessing interstate health services.
Queensland’s border closures alone are estimated to cost $21 million and 173 jobs a day, a Senate inquiry heard on Thursday.
And Qantas boss Alan Joyce says it is confusing why states with no cases are not open to each other.
Tougher restrictions affecting South Australian communities close to the Victorian border have come into force as efforts continue to halt the spread of COVID-19 across the state line.
The new measures prevent anyone living close to the border from entering SA, unless they qualify as an essential traveller.
Some exemptions are in place including those people with properties that straddle the two states and for students in years 11 and 12.
The restrictions have prompted wide community debate with some questioning the need as virus numbers in Melbourne start to drop.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who hails from rural Queensland, accused state premiers of failing to show leadership on the issue.
“The inability or unwillingness of our premiers to work with each other to find common-sense and practical solutions to restrictions that they have imposed is becoming a major test of their leadership,” Mr Littleproud said ahead of the meeting.
He described the meeting as a “flashpoint for our federation”.
“Unless premiers commit to work with one another to find workable solutions to state border issues for regional Australians, then they risk states becoming irrelevant to modern Australia.”
Security guard to give evidence
A Melbourne security guard who worked at two “hot spot” quarantine hotels will appear before an inquiry into the bungled scheme.
Also appearing before Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry on Friday is Luke Ashford, a senior employee at Parks Victoria who was seconded to the Department of Health and Human Services during the pandemic.
The former soldier and firefighter worked as an authorised officer in the quarantine program but tendered his resignation to DHHS on June 18.
He said the DHHS could not provide him with a safe working environment.
Most of the state’s current COVID-19 cases have been attributed to outbreaks at the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels.
The inquiry on Thursday heard from two nurses who outlined the extent of the failures in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, with security guards misusing personal protective equipment, while nurses went without.
Michael Tait, a nurse with 20 years’ experience, told the inquiry just 25 guests were tested for COVID-19 in the first five days due to the lack of swab kits and personal protective equipment for nurses.
“We didn’t have medium gloves until day four. We did not get N95 masks until day eight,” Mr Tait said.
“We never got hoods, face shields or shoe coverings even though we were told we would.”
Meanwhile, he said security guards “didn’t understand the importance or even the use of PPE” and left used masks and gloves strewn on the ground.
“I saw security guards with their masks down underneath their chin, eating their lunch with gloves on,” Mr Tait, who worked with the first arrivalsat the Crown Metropol and Crown Promenadeand, told the inquiry.
Another nurse, identified only as Jen for legal reasons, worked mainly at the Park Royal hotel for four weeks and described security guards failing to comply with safety procedures.
“I saw a lot of mostly security guards constantly wearing the same gloves throughout their shift, going and making themselves a coffee without their gloves on, using their phone, things like that,” she said.
Jen said guests with serious mental and physical health issues were treated as if they were “a problem and being annoying”.
She said a man was told by a Department of Health and Human Services staff member that they “need to stop threatening suicide just so they can get a cigarette”.
Stranded Australians want to come home
More than 18,000 Australians abroad are trying to return home but limits on international arrivals are posing a significant challenge, a Senate inquiry has been told.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Fiona Webster says 27,000 Australians have registered overseas, with 18,800 of them wanting to come home.
Most were in India, the Philippines, South Africa and Vietnam, she said on Thursday.
More than 371,000 Australians have returned home since March 13, when the public was urged not to go overseas because of the coronavirus health crisis.
The federal government has organised 64 repatriation flights home, with 13 of those from India.
States requested limits on international arrivals so hotels could cope with the mandatory two-week quarantine program.
Until October 24 the limits are:
- Melbourne: no international passenger arrivals
- Sydney: 350 passenger arrivals per day
- Perth: 525 per week
- Brisbane: 500 per week
- Adelaide: 500 per week
- Canberra and Darwin: limits discussed with jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis
- Hobart: no international flights