Open borders to save jobs

Open borders to save jobs

Western Australia has always been an outward focused and trade exposed State. Whether it’s our commodities bound for export or ability to draw in tourists from overseas or the east coast — this is what has continued to drive our economic growth, development as a State, and quality of life which is the envy of the nation. But the coronavirus challenge, as it is doing right around the world, is putting much of this at risk.

Whilst we won’t be in a position for some time to forecast just how long the recovery phase will take, our next steps will be critical in determining how quickly we are able to get back to life — as much as possible — as we knew it.

As a senator for Western Australia, I have been using my time throughout this challenge to speak to as many people as possible about the impact on them, their employers, and their businesses, and providing feedback to the Commonwealth as they have continued to put support structures in place.

I’ve heard some real success stories, of ingenuity, invention and innovation, the real spirit of WA. I’ve also heard stories of those hit by the most direct and severe consequences of this economic shock through no fault or doing of their own.

The single thread running through the overwhelming majority of stories for those doing it tough, particularly in service-focused industries and their supply chains, is the closure of Western Australia’s border. It’s time to reopen the border as part of stage five, or earlier, consistent with the Commonwealth’s health advice.

Just as the border has contributed to our success through the peak of this crisis, it will contribute to our ability to recover. Each day we continue to keep it closed is another day we will see its worst effects continue to compound for West Australian businesses and the people they employ. Western Australia’s unemployment rate for May is the highest in the nation at 8.1 per cent — it also represents the largest national monthly increase at 2 per cent, up from 6.1 per cent.

This means 30,000 West Australians lost their jobs in May, and 104,000 since February. The single most significant action we can take right now to put downward pressure on unemployment is to get more Australians spending their money in WA businesses. Analysis commissioned by the Tourism Council of WA estimates 42 jobs per day are being lost as a direct result of interstate visitors not being able to come to our State.

In recognition of the impact on jobs during the peak of this pandemic, JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments provide a safety net for both businesses and individuals to keep their heads above water — and they’re doing just that. But they’re not designed to replace revenue or income, and they’re not designed to be permanent. Both are currently scheduled to be wound back in September.

As I have said on the floor of the Senate, I believe the next phase of recovery will be driven by the freedom of movement and purchasing power of Australians. We cannot stand in the way of this, for if our businesses are not the beneficiaries of this spending, those in other States will be.

This also needs to be a national approach — we, nor any other State, cannot go it alone, particularly when we know our international border closures are likely to be in place for some time. I recognise this position is not shared by the majority of Western Australians. In writing this piece, I’ve had some robust conversations with many in the community.

However, I believe there is a difference between doing what’s right and what’s popular — and I believe opening our border is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it. I would make the case Australia, indeed Western Australia, is a very different place to what it was in just February this year when we were beginning our journey into the unknown.

Our response has proved to be an international success story. We have sophisticated testing capabilities, industrialised contact tracing, and our capacity to treat and deal with the virus is the envy of the world. We also know more about how the virus behaves than at any point in time before now.

The fight is far from over. But what has changed over the past few months is our ability to deal with it. Our recovery hinges on getting businesses back to business and workers back to work. Complete elimination and zero cases is unrealistic and has never been the goal of the National Cabinet.

The pursuit of this is harmful to the livelihoods of Western Australians. Our objective has been to suppress and manage the virus, and that is what we have now achieved. When the virus is long gone, we can’t be left with a popularity-driven economic hangover.


Now is not the time to do just what’s popular; it’s time to do what’s right, and that’s to reopen for business.