Palaszczuk tells of ‘sleepless nights, really hard decisions’ over border closure

An anguished Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has spoken of the pressure she is under trying to save lives while Queenslanders are losing their jobs.

May 26, 2020, updated May 26, 2020
(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

On the Gold Coast today to meet with tourism, hospitality and business representatives, Palaszczuk again defended the Queensland Government’s decision to keep the NSW border closed to holiday-makers.

The border policy will be reviewed on Sunday but the Premier considered it “highly unlikely” the restrictions would be lifted before July 10. She has previously speculated it could be as late as September if NSW and Victoria continued having community transmission of COVID-19, despite warnings of a multibillion-dollar hit to the tourism sector.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington, who was also on the Coast speaking to locals, called on the Labor Premier to end the uncertainty.

“We need to have the Premier today rule out that she is going to stick to September or sometime later,” Frecklington said.

“People cannot afford it. Their lives can’t afford it and their livelihoods simply can’t afford it.”

But amid ongoing political attacks, coming also from federal ministers and her NSW counterpart, Palaszczuk insisted she had to rely on health advice to keep Queensland safe. She reiterated the border policy would be reviewed at the end of every month and she had sought to work cooperatively with the National Cabinet.

“Let me say this really clearly: these are really hard decisions everyone,” Palaszczuk told reporters.

“I have sleepless nights, I understand people are hurting, I understand people have lost their jobs. I want to get people back into work as quickly as possible but if I don’t do it safely it could cripple our industry for years to come and take us backwards.

“So I say to NSW and Victoria: get your cases under control so we can open everything up.”

Queensland’s tally of COVID-19 cases increased to 1057 overnight, after the disease was diagnosed in a Cairns woman who had been on the Ruby Princess that was controversially allowed to disembark in Sydney.

Asked today if the upcoming school holidays were a missed opportunity for Queensland tourism, Palaszczuk turned the question back on the reporter.

“Do you want your family to have community transmission from NSW? Do you? I think we all care about our families.”

The Premier, acting on advice from Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young, following industry consultations this week, will discuss easing the restrictions at a meeting of the Queensland Disaster Management Committee.

Having encouraged Gold Coast businesses to prepare their own public health strategies, Palaszczuk appeared to suggest the current roadmap, due to move to stage two on June 12, could be accelerated to allow more patrons in restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs, and a wider radius of allowable travel. That would coincide with a state tourism campaign ahead of Queensland school holidays starting on June 27.

Mermaid Beach small business owner Trav Buchanan said easing operating restrictions was key to local businesses, even ahead of opening the border.

His was one Gold Coast business that was relying on local support rather than interstate traffic to survive, he said.

Overall turnover at his Board Culture Surf Store was significantly down but business had relied on a strong local support network.

Buchanan said it was locals who had rallied along with a noticeable increase in customers from Brisbane as soon as travel restrictions began to be eased.

“We have generational support from interstate that has been affected. The shop’s been here for so many years that families that have been here from NSW or Victoria always come in and say g’day. We have lost that, but at the same time our local support network has increased,” he said.

“We found at the start of everything, people were coming and checking on us.  They were buying a T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses and just putting money in the till as well as paying forward.  People around here have been affected by job losses, so people would put $20 in credit so we could choose customers who were doing it real tough and help them out.”

Buchanan said he had taken the decision to stay open to fight to survive, keeping the shop open seven days a week during the restrictions.

“People forget you very quickly. People change their ways and trends and the way they move. I had to stay open and fight the fight rather than shut the doors and hope people would come back,” he said.

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham continued his criticism of Palaszczuk today, accusing Queensland of “holding out” on the rest of Australia.

“More small businesses and more jobs in Queensland depend upon tourism than anywhere else in the country and yet we’ve got a circumstance where they seem to be holding out the longest, pretending somehow there hasn’t been success suppressing COVID-19 elsewhere in Australia,” Birmingham said.

But Palaszczuk questioned why Queensland was being singled out for criticism and said “Simon Birmingham should perhaps speak to his own premier in South Australia who has the borders shut”. She said Birmingham was unable to say when the Australian border would reopen and rejected speculation NSW and Victoria could be part of a trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand but not Queensland.

On the Coast, Palaszczuk’s meetings with “mum-and-dad tourism operators’’ included boat hire operators, restaurant and cafe owners, hotel and attraction operators.

It followed an industry round table including Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, Suns chair Tony Cochrane and Tourism Chair Bob East and Titans co-owner Rebecca Frizelle.

Star Queensland managing director Geoff Hogg said the Gold Coast’s Star casino had submitted a COVID-safe plan to the Queensland Government ahead of staged re-opening.

On March 23, Star stood down 95 per cent of its 2500 staff. On top of staff impacts, local suppliers including local produce and seafood suppliers had also been devastated.

Hogg said with COVID-safe plans in place, business was looking to the next stage in easing of restrictions.

“I know speaking to a large number of tourism operators across the state we are all very excited about this next stage,” Hogg said.

“We are ready. We are excited and ready, we’ve got our key plans in place. It’s going to be even safer to come to all the tourism options around Queensland, whether small or large, from a safety perspective for our customers, for our employees and of course for our communities.”

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