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Edition 264 – Don’t Cross The Border

It had been a year since I’d visited clients, in person, in Melbourne. COVID 19 and the disruption it brought meant that, from late February, 2020, it was all on Zoom, pretty much like everyone else.

Finally, in late January, we were able to lock in a date for a meeting in person. However, I made the decision, fortuitously as it would appear, to drive and not fly. My thoughts were:

  1. I don’t want to be on a flight or in an airport where a positive COVID case is later detected.
  2. If I have to leave Melbourne at short notice, I’d prefer to have my own car to make the 3 hour dash to the border.

On a Friday recently, I took the first leg of the journey – from home to Albury – around 500km. I made the decision to break up the trip to Melbourne over two days, so I was suitably rested before our meeting. Experience has told me that 8 or 9 hours of driving in one stretch means I’m pretty much toast the next day.

After a quick coffee stop at Holbrook, 60km north of Albury, my client phoned me in the car. As I’m admiring what is the bizarre sight of a decommissioned submarine, the HMAS Otway, through the drizzling rain, I’m told there’s the chance a snap lockdown for Victoria might be on. “If he’s in a suit, he’s got something to say” is what she said about the Victorian Premier’s impending press conference. Whilst things had been bubbling, there was, from my own state of New South Wales’ perspective, nothing too much to worry about.

30 km down the Hume Highway comes a text – “he’s in a suit” – the message read aloud by the car’s audio system, shortly followed by “don’t cross the border” as I approach the first of the three exits into Albury. Our plans were blown out of the water and, not for the first time in the past 12 months, a state government other than my own had made decisions about my own travel.

In the end, I drove 1100km to end back up at home – two days I won’t get back, but at least the scenery was partially worth the journey.

The point of all of this is that I’m one person, in my own business, impacted by a snap decision announced by politicians and bureaucrats. What about all the other businesses, employees and travellers whose plans are tipped upside down, all whilst, somehow, the Australian Open tennis is allowed to proceed, albeit crowdless? What is the cost of that – and I’m not just referencing the economic cost either?

I believe that lockdowns and border closures have already created some long term consequences for Australia. Whilst such actions by various State Governments from a public health perspective may have been the right decision, I’m not sure the longer term economic and wider health perspective were factored in. Here’s what I believe:

  1. Interstate travel for holidays will be off the cards. I’ve lost count of the number of people that have told me “I’m not going to Queensland anytime soon” when they’ve talked about their next holiday.
  2. Some businesses may refuse to undertake works in remote Australia (the Northern Territory and Western Australia come to mind), irrespective of whether they’re part of a national contract, because of the concerns about getting people into and out of those states in lockdown situations.
  3. New South Wales will surge as an economic powerhouse, simply because of its demonstrated ability to keep an economy functioning whilst there were low levels of community transmission of COVID 19.
  4. Any future Federal Government Job Keeper type packages will be fully dependant upon an agreed set of parameters across the six states and two territories as to when a lockdown or border closure will be countenanced.
  5. A renewed conversation around our Federation and State’s rights needs to take place, as it did in the 1890’s. How can the Federal Government be left to foot the bill for the decisions made by the States and not have a voice at the table when those decisions are made?

120 years after Federation, isn’t a State Border merely an imaginary line and nothing else?