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Australia Has Returned To Being A Convict Nation

Written by
25 August 2020

It must be nice to be Shane Warne.

Shane was one of the 22,640 citizens The Australian Border Force granted permission to leave the country between March 25 and July 31.

The 69,310 people who were denied permission in this time are people like Donna Burton, an Australian woman who was forced to forfeit her $2,000 (£1,100) airfare to London and not see her only daughter be married after the government did not approve her exemption to travel overseas.

Perhaps if Donna were a better cricket commentator, she’d have been allowed to leave the country.

That’s the relationship Australians have with the government right now concerning how we can travel abroad. It is not an open choice, as citizens of the UK have. We must apply for permission, and three out of every four applications are rejected.

These travel bans puts Australia on par with Belarus, Namibia and the Ivory Coast for restrictions on international travel. Even New Zealand, famous for its draconian lockdown at the outset of coronavirus in a single-minded elimination strategy, only goes as far as advising New Zealanders not to travel.

The message is clear, the Australian government knows the right decision for its citizens, far more than they do.

It’s not just overseas travel that is banned, but internal travel too, and it is destroying our tourism and airline industries.

Restrictions have hurt Australians in every industry, of course. Well, except for the public service. Institute of Public Affairs analysis shows that while more than 604,000 private sector jobs were destroyed between March 14 and July 25, nearly 14,000 jobs were added to the public service.

But the border closures present a unique challenge to the tourism industry, one of the nation’s highest employers.

Western Australia is the worst culprit, passing the rule that you cannot enter the state from any other part of the nation unless you are granted an exemption. There is no timetable for the border to reopen.

As of Monday this week, there are no active cases of coronavirus in the Northern Territory. There hasn’t been one for over a week. Yet for the safety of its citizens Western Australia has closed the borders to Northern Territorians.

Queensland has closed its borders to anyone who has been in any part of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory 14 days prior to coming to Queensland. South Australia has said even its own citizens cannot return from Victoria freely, nor will any traveller from New South Wales be allowed in without a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine.

The Northern Territory – home to Uluru – has declared its borders will not return to normal for 18 months. Melburnians aren’t allowed to travel within our own state – in fact, we cannot travel further than three miles from our house.

This situation reached its comedic zenith when Victorian sheep producer Shirly Sprenger found that she would have to put her 40 sheep on a plane to get them to a New South Wales saleyard to get through border closures.

Laugh while you can, because the realisation is scary. In the view of the New South Wales government, permission to fly in a plane is extended to sheep before people.

States are pursuing these polices on the idea that elimination of coronavirus is possible, and they can keep their states safe until a vaccine is found.

This is, at best, naivety. Elimination strategies have not worked – New Zealand saw one of its largest cities return to lockdown after months of keeping the virus at bay. And last weekend the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said there was unlikely to be any vaccine before the end of 2021.

So what has this hope for a cure cost Australia’s tourism industry? Everything.

In 2019, Austrade released figures showing that one in 13 of Australia’s workforce were employed in tourism, and tourist spending was $143 billion (£78.4bn) a year. Tourism is now virtually non-existent, and Australians who are keen to help the dying industry are prohibited from being able to do so.

In Western Australia alone, there are 4,500 small businesses selling or providing a tourism product, according to the state government; 1,138 have already applied for handouts from the state’s Tourism Recovery Fund. How many more are going to have to do the same as the closures continue into next year?

In New South Wales, the closed border to Victoria is costing $73 million (£40m) per week in lost tourism spending according to NSW Treasury. In Queensland, the Australia Tourism Industry says the decision to close borders is destroying 173 jobs every day and costing the state $21 million (£11.5m) daily.

Qantas recorded a loss of $1.97 billion (£1.08bn) and has cut 6,000 jobs, and CEO Alan Joyce believes that international flights won’t reopen until mid-2021. Australia’s second largest domestic carrier, Virgin Airlines, this month cut 3,000 of its 9,000 jobs.

This is completely devastating, and the effects will be felt for years to come. Jobs are gone, businesses have closed to never reopen.

Australia’s beauty is incredible. It has amazed tourists for decades, as millions every year came to see landmarks such as The Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and, for reasons beyond comprehension, Ramsay St.

We now face the prospect of possessing these fantastic sights and not having the ability to share our country with the world, once the total effects of lost jobs in the tourism industry is felt. What state governments are doing to tourism will be one of the lasting tragedies of this virus.

Australians cannot travel within their own nation without the government’s permission, and if we want to go overseas to recall what it is to live with civil liberties, the majority of us are denied from doing that too.

The Brits have always made fun of Australia as being a convict nation. It seems 200 years later we’re back where we started.

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James Bolt

James Bolt is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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