Debate bordering on the absurd

IT'S the economy, stupid. It's an oft quoted line that was the cornerstone of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign win.

It's become a legendary mantra among political spin doctors, who ultimately believe that people vote with one hand holding the pen and the other on their wallet.

That's why the current debate about when to open Queensland's borders is so fascinating. Should the health of Queenslanders override any economic considerations?

Or should our leaders - having flattened the curve - make their No. 1 priority getting the state's financial health back on track?

I think it's mind-numbingly absurd - and irresponsible - for the Queensland Government to be talking about September, or even beyond, before our borders are reopened to other states.

Sending tourism broke in the Sunshine State is economic vandalism. To suggest it is just the Gold and Sunshine coasts who are upset about the extended border closures is fantasy.

People want the Government to get out of the way. By all means flatten the curve, but please don't flatten the economy.

Professor Paul Kelly is without peer as Australia's pre-eminent epidemiologist. That means he knows more about infectious disease and pandemic-type viruses than anybody in the country. He is on not one but two World Health Organisation advisory groups on disease study, and is a member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and the National Health and Medical Research Council. He has studied medicine in Sydney and London and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journals, with his specialty being population health, or how to stop viruses spreading among the general community.

That's why he is currently Australia's deputy chief medical officer. This is what he said last week about opening the borders: "From a medical point of view, I can't see why the borders are still closed. The domestic borders were not part of our plan for control of this. Either opening or closing.''

Contrast Prof Kelly's comments with those of Queensland's chief medical officer Dr Jeannette Young, who is now saying that it is likely to be September, not July, before the state borders are open in Queensland.

"We need to hold firm and manage our domestic borders very carefully,'' she said.

Queensland's argument is that there is a higher COVID-19 transmission rate among those in NSW and Victoria and that poses a greater risk to Queenslanders. There have been 1,192,262 tests for coronavirus conducted in Australia, as of Saturday. Of those, 0.6 per cent tested positive. Australia is leading the world in controlling this virus. Our international borders are closed. Those with the disease are either in hospital or at home for 14 days.

The current border restrictions are in place until at least July 10. That's eight weeks away, a lifetime in politics, especially during the blowtorch environment of a looming state poll. Extending the delay on opening the borders to mid-September consigns those businesses relying on interstate visitors to another eight weeks of fiscal darkness.

That means many Queensland tourism operators will miss out on the annual "snowbirds'' phenomenon, where southerners fly into the Sunshine State to escape the winter weather. If the border ban was lifted on July 10, Queensland tourism operators and businesses would host tens of thousands of southerners during the winter school holiday break.

It would be a much needed fillip to a horror year and in many instances it would be the difference between shuttering their doors forever, or continuing to be a viable operation.

The stakes are incredibly high. We are told we are all in this together. That's not correct. A recent study commissioned by the Cairns Regional Council shows 7700 jobs were lost in tourism in that city in the past month. On the Gold Coast, the figure was 30,000. The cost to Cairns' economy was close to $400 million and it was $1.5 billion on the Gold Coast. These are regional cities that are haemorrhaging. They need a break. They need confidence. They need certainty. They need the borders opened.

All at a time when politicians and senior bureaucrats - even judges - continue to earn their generous salaries. For example, Dr Young's annual salary is $622,000. That's $12,000 a week. No doubt she earns every cent, especially at a time such as now. Chief Justice Catherine Holmes earns $530,000 a year.

Ms Palaszczuk has a week to make a decision on whether she sticks with the original roadmap date of lifting the border ban on July 10.

It's a tough choice. Or is it? Will she take the advice of her CMO Dr Jeannette Young and ensure unequivocally that we don't get a second wave of infections, while at the same time consign many hundreds of Queensland tourism operators to economic oblivion? Or does she defer to the Commonwealth deputy chief medical officer Prof Kelly, who says it's safe to reopen the borders?

In politics, every decision is made through the prism of how it will be perceived and play out at the ballot box. Since 2015, the Palaszczuk Government has failed miserably as an economic manager.

Killing off tourism will be the icing on the cake.

Originally published as Debate bordering on the absurd