AM — ABC radio with David Lipson
Subjects: state border closures
SABRA LANE: The battle over state border closures has gone up a notch this morning. The Federal Government's warning Western Australia its constitutional power to keep borders shut is waning as more and more people get vaccinated. It's the latest attempt to press the state to stick with the National Plan for reopening once vaccination rates hit 80 per cent. It comes as dozens of the nation's biggest companies unite to urge Australia to open up society and live with the virus once the vaccine targets are met. David Lipson joins me now with more. David, why does the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, think a court challenge against border closures could succeed where Clive Palmer failed once before?
DAVID LIPSON: Well, Sabra, this is an academic argument really. It is hypothetical because there is no court challenge against WA's border closures. But it is interesting in the frame of this growing pressure being heaped on WA to stick with that National Plan to open up borders once the nation hits 80 per cent vaccination. And the Prime Minister does say it's ultimately up to the states to decide borders and other COVID restrictions. But pressure is coming from other quarters. For example, the Treasurer's urged businesses to beat the drum on wavering states, and today, as you mentioned, we have 80 of Australia's biggest businesses, who together employ a million people, signing this open letter to urge all states to open up society and live with the virus in the same way other countries have done, once we hit those targets. Now, we're still quite a way off those targets. Just 35 per cent of Australians over 16 are double dosed. But the rollout is proceeding rapidly, 1.9 million doses a week. New South Wales, in fact, will hit 70 per cent first dose vaccination today.
So those targets are likely to be met in the next few months, and the Government wants open borders when that happens and if any state resists, well, the Attorney-General believes the High Court would be more likely to back open borders this time around should there be a challenge. And I asked the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, that exact question. Why would a Clive Palmer style court challenge pushing for open borders be more likely to succeed now, where it failed last time?
MINISTER CASH: In the first instance, David, I'd say, the Morrison Government has no plans to challenge state border closures in the High Court. In November of last year, though, when the High Court brought down its decision in relation to the Clive Palmer matter, it made the observation that closing the Western Australian border was a necessary and proportionate response. And what they said at that time was, there is no known vaccine and no treatment presently available to mitigate the risks, basically, of COVID-19. When you jump forward to where we are today, a lot has changed since last November. We now have, for example, both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are registered for use in Australia. They've also been proven to be effective in preventing serious illness and death, as well as limiting transmission. So when you look at the comments made by the High Court last year, the situation that we face today as a country is fundamentally different.
DAVID LIPSON: Of course, there is no such court action planned or in the works that we know of at the moment. So this is all hypothetical. It would ultimately have to be tested by the High Court. We don't know, do we, which way they would go?
MINISTER CASH: No, no, we don't. And that's why I think we need to go back to sticking to the plan. We have a National Plan agreed to by state and territory governments. And when you look at where Australians in particular now are, they are overwhelmingly saying to states and territories, please stick with the National Plan.
DAVID LIPSON: As a West Australian, you know full well how different life is in the West compared to here on the East Coast, in Canberra included. Do you have sympathy for Premier McGowan's view that he wants to keep COVID out of that state for as long as possible? Even if that means keeping borders closed for some time after the nation reaches 80 per cent?
MINISTER CASH: I think on any analysis, as a Western Australian, we have done well as a state, on any analysis. The life that we are living in Western Australia is fundamentally different, and I spend a lot of time in the Eastern states so I can make that comparison. So, we have done well as a state. But what we are now seeing with the vaccination rates accelerating, and, you know, I know we're not at 70 per cent, but more and more Western Australians are putting our arms out and saying, I want to be vaccinated. The question for Western Australian becomes- or for Western Australians become, if not at 80 per cent, then when?
SABRA LANE: Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, and she was speaking there with David Lipson.