Australian State and Federal Leaders Fail to Reach Consensus on Border Issues

Australian State and Federal Leaders Fail to Reach Consensus on Border Issues
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on July 9, 2020. (David Gray/Getty Images)

Australia’s political leaders have met to discuss state border closures, an agriculture worker code, and extreme weather risks over the upcoming summer season.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has scolded stubborn state premiers after failing to secure consensus on easing border restrictions or allowing the free movement of agricultural workers.

The prime minister is changing the rules and lowering expectations of national cabinet after chairing a fortnightly meeting of premiers and chief ministers.

“We’ve decided this notion of 100 percent absolute consensus on any issue is not a way the national cabinet can indeed work,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

“What we will do is we will set out areas where we can come together, and get as many states and territories as possible to come around that agreement.

“Not everyone has to get on the bus for the bus to leave the station. But it is important the bus leaves the station, and we all agree on that.”

State border closures dominated the national cabinet meeting as the Commonwealth pushed for a national definition of a coronavirus hotspot.

Premiers and chief ministers agreed to pursue a consistent model, but refused to endorse a definition provided by the country’s acting chief medical officer.

“There will be further discussion on how that can be more specifically defined,” Morrison said.

“This will take some time to get that right,” he said.

States have total control over who crosses their borders but the Commonwealth is cranky it carries the lion’s share of the economic cost.

Morrison also asked premier and chief ministers to endorse a national agricultural code to allow seasonal workers to travel over state lines.

Five out of eight jurisdictions signed up, but Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania declined.

All states and territories except Western Australia also pledged to reach the third and final stage of easing business restrictions by Christmas.

As well, the national cabinet agreed to relax the weekly limit on stranded Australians returning home from overseas each week.

There are more than 23,000 Australians abroad who want to return, a third of them in India.

The federal government has imposed a weekly cap of 4000 international passengers to ease the burden on state hotel quarantine systems.

Premiers and chief ministers will look to ease the burden on NSW, which is doing most of the heavy lifting.

Australia’s coronavirus death toll has passed 700 after Victoria announced 59 new deaths.

Fifty of the deaths occurred in July and August but were only reported on Friday.

There have now been 737 deaths from coronavirus across the country.

National cabinet was also briefed by the Bureau of Meteorology on the upcoming high-risk weather season, which is likely to bring bushfires and cyclones.

Daniel McCulloch