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Backbenchers, businesses urge governments to ease state borders

With the Coalition party room due to meet in Parliament House for the first time in two months, MPs in regional electorates are pressing for action to allow their constituents to cross state borders.

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Agriculture Minister David Littleproud claimed a victory on Monday when the Queensland government approved an exemption for farmers and agribusiness workers to cross the border with NSW.

Mr Littleproud, the Nationals deputy leader and the member for Maranoa, a Queensland electorate that includes most of the NSW border, said the deal was an important step but did not go far enough.

“It is still silent with respect to health issues, about those particularly in northern New South Wales that rely on Queensland medical services to be able to get those when they require them,” he said.

Nationals MPs Bridget McKenzie, Perin Davey, Anne Webster and Damian Drum are applying pressure within the Coalition backbench for rules that allow more movement across borders for those who live in the regions.

Senator Bridget McKenzie wants state border restrictions eased.

Senator Bridget McKenzie wants state border restrictions eased.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Senator McKenzie said regional communities were suffering from restrictions that were required in the big cities.

“We’re not the risk – Melbourne is the risk,” she said.

Senator McKenzie said other states should follow Queensland in allowing exemptions for farmers and rural business workers.

She blamed “city-centric parochialism” for hurting regional communities with rules that were required in Melbourne, Sydney and other cities.

In a new sign of pressure on political leaders, 28 industry groups issued a joint statement on Monday to press for a national approach.

BCA chief Jennifer Westacott said the “rapid and piecemeal” rules was hurting families, destroying jobs and crippling the Australian economy’s ability to recover from the pandemic.

“What has emerged is a patchwork of inconsistent state and territory-based rules that ignore the reality of the way small and large businesses operate across borders and Australians live their lives,” she said.

“We urge National Cabinet to agree to a national framework that clearly sets out the thresholds of when internal border controls can be implemented and how they would apply.”

Sydney Airport chief Geoff Culbert said the border controls were “not the finest moment” in the federation.

“No one is arguing about the border closures to Victoria,” Mr Culbert said.

“This was sensible and backed by health advice. What we are yet to see is the medical evidence that it’s unsafe to travel between states with no outbreaks or low levels of community transmission.”

Mr Culbert singled out NSW as the best example of how to contain the coronavirus without inflicting heavy economic pain.

While Mr Morrison has been unable to persuade the premiers to dismantle their border barriers so far, he said again on Monday that he would continue to try to resolve the problem in national cabinet.

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“Borders in principle, within the federation, are not a good idea,” the Prime Minister said.

“And we should avoid having them, wherever we possibly can, and they should
only be applied when the health advice absolutely demands it.”

Mr Morrison accepted that the border checks were needed between Victoria and NSW on health grounds.

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