A chance for the states to do something really unprecedented

State governments are locked in ugly arguments about who is right to be open and closed. Unprecedented? Absolutely not.

23/05/2020 10:03:00 AM

Opinion: State governments are locked in ugly arguments about who is right to be open and closed. Unprecedented? No way

State governments are locked in ugly arguments about who is right to be open and closed. Unprecedented? Absolutely not.

, the states slammed their borders closed against each other, warred against each other with such bitterness that the fledgling Commonwealth almost blew apart. Even though Australia was braced and waiting for the disease and checking every ship that arrived. Even though all governments had an agreement on just how to handle it.

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"I never imagined that history would repeat," says Julian Rait, a Melbourne ophthalmologist who wrote a research paper on the topic 30 years ago. He's now president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association. And he's surprised to discover how unhappily relevant his earlier work has become. "I thought people would be more sensible this time around, and initially they were, but it's changed as this has gone on."

AdvertisementWhen the Spanish flu hit the rest of the world in 1918, Australia had the advantage of its island isolation in a slower-moving era before the advent of the aeroplane. Anticipating that it would inevitably arrive on Australian soil, the federal and state governments got together and forged a 13-point agreement in November 1918. Among other things, they promised that any state which detected a case of Spanish flu would immediately notify the others.

The coronavirus of its time first penetrated the quarantine wall in Victoria. The first case turned up in January 1919. But did Victoria observe its obligation to report? "What Victoria did at first was concealment or denial," says Rait. Melbourne knew yet remained silent for two weeks.

Illustration: John ShakespeareCredit:The first known disease bearer was a returned soldier who took the train from Melbourne to Sydney. NSW identified the problem, declared a health emergency and closed its border with Victoria. Victoria protested, and the federal government supported it. Melbourne wanted to keep the border open. The NSW acting premier George Fuller slammed Victoria for claiming the right "to send any number of her widely infected population into this state, in which, so far, we have been successful in keeping the disease within small bounds".

NSW defied an order from the acting prime minister to reopen its border. If the federal government would not interdict and inspect all shipping from Victoria to NSW, then the Sydney government would take control of the quarantine function itself.This was a forerunner of the NSW government decision this year to test the temperature of all new overseas arrivals at Sydney airport if the federal government wouldn't. "We will protect our people," headlined

The Sydney Morning Heraldin February 1919. Victoria was furious at what it considered unfriendly economic vandalism.The Agenewspaper fumed at NSW's "parochial stupidity bordering on insanity". It headed its editorial aimed at the Sydney government: "The crime of egotism." Economic collapse would follow. "Suddenly, on the eve of winter," explained

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The Age, "comes the startling news that Australia is near the brink of an industrial and domestic calamity", as coal and gas supplies ran low, industries shut down and unemployment soared.Illustration: Jim PavlidisCredit:The Melbourne newspaper drove hard at Sydney's culpability in April 1919: "It will be interesting for the workman who is thrown out of work and cannot meet his Easter bills to learn that he and his family are paying for the sport of politicians who contend about what they are pleased to call 'state rights.' The magnitude and cost of the NSW administration make it an imposture."

It quickly became every state for itself. Victoria imposed no restrictions whatsoever. Other states took a harder line. Indeed, the health measures imposed in some states during that mass infection make today's look like a Burning Man festival, a contemporary Woodstock of libertarian abandon.

In most states face masks were compulsory, schools were shut. The WA government seized interstate trains. The federal government tried to exert its authority to keep economic activity alive, but it was exposed as feeble when Queensland refused to allow entry to Commonwealth troops to enforce quarantine.

Tasmania ignored the federal government order to shorten its quarantine period on incoming ships. Tasmanians took satisfaction from enjoying ultimately the lowest death rate anywhere on earth, according to a 1976 paper by Humphrey McQueen. If Victoria's initial cover-up made it the Beijing of its time, Tasmania's success made it the Taiwan of the Spanish flu.

Sydneysiders wearing masks during the Spanish flu outbreak. From the Mirror, February 7, 1919.Credit:Staff photographerWhen NSW pubs were allowed to open it was for a maximum of five minutes at a time. Travellers trying to cross the border from NSW to Queensland were blocked and lived in squalid quarantine camps. No hotel quarantine for travellers in 1919. If they eventually were granted entry they still had to pay a substantial fee.

The outcome of this failure of cooperation was unhappy. While the COVID-19 pandemic has killed 101 Australians to date, the Spanish flu killed somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000, in waves of increasing severity. It was estimated that about one-third of the entire population was infected at some point.

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Rait reflects that "the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry developed to the point where it nearly blew the Commonwealth apart. Beyond NSW and Victoria, the interesting thing about our federation is that South Australia and Western Australia in particular are very parochial. This squabbling between NSW and Victoria confirmed their long standing scepticism of the eastern states and they went their own way.

"It seems history is repeating itself – the smaller states find themselves less trusting of the testing and the capacity of NSW and Victoria", with South Australia, WA, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory keeping their borders sealed despite the urgings of NSW and Victoria that they should open them.

Rait remarks that the decisions by the less populous states to hold fast their borders "plays to the parochialism in their own states – they can beat their chests and say 'Look how good we are at protecting you from these feral Newsouthwelshmen and Victorians'".

Australia's federation now stands at the threshold of a different test, one it's been failing continuously for decades. Not just to coordinate in one area of policy but to reform the federation itself. To simplify the messy lines of federal-state responsibility and to clear the clogged tax arteries that have helped give Australia an ever-slowing economic growth rate.

And, on this task, it is the states that have been leading the way. NSW and Victoria, notably, have overcome their rivalry to embrace the reform task together. The NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, likes to give the example of the current education dysfunction – the federal government is responsible for childcare, the states for preschool, the states for schools, the federal for universities and the states for TAFE.

LoadingDavid Thodeyto produce policy ideas. Better federal-state organisation of services such as health and education are part of its remit. Tax reform is another part. Trying to get any real tax reform in Australia has been the labour of Sisyphus ever since the last major overhaul – the GST-based changes of the Howard and Costello government 20 years ago. Like Sisyphus and his rock, the task has proved endless yet fruitless.

Says Perrottet: "It's been opposition from Labor and Liberal sides in the past that has stifled reform and probably will do so in the future. If we can't get co-operation across party political lines in a pandemic, we never will."One of the reasons that his evolving partnership with his Victorian counterpart, Tim Pallas, is important is that it promises some hope of doing just this – Perrottet is Liberal and Pallas Labor. "Working across party lines can take the heat out of a lot of issues," says the NSW Treasurer.

His reform panel is due to deliver its final report next month. Perhaps the biggest question then will be whether the federal government is up to it. Until the pandemic struck, the Morrison government specialised in making excuses for why it couldn't make any serious economic reforms.

LoadingIn recent weeks it has changed its rhetoric. Scott Morrison is due to give a speech on Tuesday setting out some serious post-pandemic reform directions. Perrottet is full of hope: "My conversations with Josh Frydenberg have been incredibly constructive."

A serious federal and state program of reforms to improve health care, education and tax, working across the Labor-Liberal divide? A fractured continent better united after the pandemic than before? That really would be unprecedented. Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald »

Anaconda Paleochook has made many bad calls but the closing of borders will be her total undoing. The QLD premier has totally misread the electorate. We need people to spend money in this State. They will only come from visitors. Unlock the border now! It’s illegal in any case. “If you don’t live in Sydney, you’re just camping out” Paul Keating, former Australian PM

Take it to High Court- they are the umpires The State Premiers are all glorified school prefects. Funny to watch them having a go at each other. Gladys is a major pain in the arse. We were doing so well with the non-partisan cooperation. Now they have ruined it over a stupid issues that affects very few. Shame on the state Premiers. I wanted to call them state leaders but they don't deserve that title.

We don't need state government model Australia. It is a waste of taxpayers money. We are over governed by lots of incompetent state governments. We need to cut cost post covid-19 A 'bitch fight' is hardly what the public wants to see in these distressing times. Time to shut up ladies and get on with running your States.

All states except VIC should be open totally no restrictions Here is an idea: let medical experts decide when the borders should be open, not politicians, and definitely not the media. Media will keep presenting it as nasty and war etc of course, that sort of drama and soap opera sells well but it’s not the case in this situation.

Is the NSW premier ScottyFromMarketing puppet on a string,once again she is the front line throwing the mud while he has been M.I.A all week.WHY?is there another reason that we don't know about.pileon bullies rubyprincess borderforce COVID19Aus morallycorrupt qldelection Maybe NSW should do some work and stop bagging the states that have? Is it jealously or the fact she doesn't want to put in the work? Stop looking to other people's backyards Gladys and clean up your own.

We’re heading back to March when ScottyFromMarketing scomo was ENCOURAGING us to go to footy (source: 12/3/20) Leaders confusing people, when evidence shows they simply follow us to try & win our votes. Terrible bunch. narcissists auspol covid I thought we as AUSTRALIANS we are one nation ,an island surrounded by water !!!! But NO these dictators have taken over and DIVIDED the sheep !!!!

Our top medical experts have said there’s no medical reason to keep the borders closed. QLD are making political decisions and not public health ones. If medical experts are recommending they open then that should be the advice followed. Queensland had the same number of infections today, as NSW. 🤪 They can stay closed. We all have plenty of wonderful places to visit in our own states for now and we still have people testing positive.

Maybe instead the states health bosses should be locked in scientific medical debates about who is right ? All borders should be closed. How hard is it? You want to stay safe, keep borders closed Why.. surely up to states As a Queenslander I trust my Premier! The fuckwit on the left is winning ...those who want to stay in their shells until someone tells them it's safe to come out and those who see that it is safe and do so...there are NO safe spaces...

Gladys needs to stop being a bully.

Temperature records plummet across Queensland as the state is hit with a wintry blastParts of Queensland shiver through their coldest May day on record as cold air and a little bit of rainfall push temperatures up to 10 degrees below average for the month. Filed under Goebbels Warming. TheirABC so fucking what? They’ll all have COVID now

New York 'slowly' reopening as the state records 100 fatalities a day | Sky News AustraliaThe New Republic's reporter Alex Shepard says New York has been 'holding steady at 100 fatalities a day” but those “numbers are going down”. \n\nMr Shepard told Sky News “in the state itself you are also seeing a slow reopening starting in the middle of the state but now the governor said earlier today the area outside of New York, which was the area that was first hit hard in the state, that may start to reopen next week”. \n\n“So you could see gradual reopening within the city, already there are coffee shops that were closed that were closed for months start to open up again,” he said.\n\n“But we are still ways away from a social gathering which is the whole point of this city.”\n\nImage: AP alex_shephard 100 people dying a day. They say it like it’s a really good thing. 😳 alex_shephard 'Holding steady' buy 'going down'? The impossible has been achieved, ........... but you fail to have even the most basic understanding of the English language. Poser. alex_shephard All from virus ? No cancer, flu influenza, hart attacks, suicide ? Really ?

NSW 'the state that everybody hates' as old rivalries fire up over bordersSydneysiders cheered while noses across the rest of the country were put firmly out of joint as State Premiers became embroiled in a war of words over coronavirus border restrictions. What kind of ridiculous headline is this? Has the abcNews turned into tabloid news? Maybe Victoria & NSW should create their own travel bubble. Qld Premier Palaszczuk also stuck in the boot, telling NSW it was 'not going to be lectured to' by a state We r in a federation If they r a rebel we cut off her GST Stop whining Qld election is coming Qld tourism industry is a dead dodo This is not the USA, don't spread hatred that doesn't exists. This is a matter of preventing a resurgence of the virus. Your headline misrepresents our country.

There is 'no medical case' for state border closures: Cormann | Sky News AustraliaFinance Minister Mathias Cormann says 'there is no medical case' for state borders to remain closed and has called on state and territory leaders to move on the issue as soon as possible.\n\nMr Cormann said Australia was on 'an easing trajectory' and the virus was 'being managed' and therefore the sooner borders reopened, 'the better for Australian jobs'.\n\nHowever, the Finance Minsiter conceded 'we have to be careful we don't make political decisions here'. \n\n'We have to make decisions based on the health and wellbeing of Australians,' he said. \n\nStates and territories are being advised to review their border restrictions on a daily basis. \n\nImage: News Corp Australia MathiasCormann NSW and Victoria have hundreds of active cases. WA, NT, SA and others have a handful or zilch. Can’t you see the blatant risk imbalance in those figures? Why would the states and territories that are virtually clean of the virus allow visitors from hotspot states? MathiasCormann Who cares what that robot says. The Premiers and state governments have sovereignty to make the decisions for their state and peoples. The federal government has no legal jurisdiction whatsoever. That's how it works. End of story Sky News. Stop lying. MathiasCormann So he’s a doctor now...

State and territory leaders face mounting pressure to open borders | Sky News AustraliaStates and territories are being advised to review their border restrictions on a daily basis. \n\nAttorney General Christian Porter urged state and territory leaders to really consider whether they were prepared to miss out on Australia’s first wave of tourists since the outbreak of coronavirus. \n\nBorder rows heightened on Thursday, with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk saying she would not “be lectured to” by New South Wales because it had more coronavirus cases than Qld. \n\nNSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian denied claims of bullying, telling Sky News her push to open state and territory borders was motivated by economic recovery. \n\n“Now our attention does have to focus on dealing with the economic consequences and I’d like us to continue working together,” she said. \n\n“We’re not always going to agree on everything, but… we should be able to express a view as leaders of our state and that’s all I was doing when I was asked the question. \n\n“If you’re talking about jobs, the economy and the wellbeing of our citizens I think those internal borders need to come down. \n\n“I think it’s in our nation’s economic interests.” \n\nQueensland authorities flagged they wanted to see four weeks of zero virus cases before reopening the state's border with New South Wales. \n\nImage: News Corp Australia Just ban all flights from China How about they consider what right they have to lockdown their citizens for any longer than is absolutely necessary? With the first wave of tourists may come the second wave of corona, states are right to tread cautiously at present

Sydney Airport urges states to open borders by JulySydney Airport boss Geoff Culbert says opening state borders in time for the July school holidays offers the only chance for many tourism operators to survive. pwhatch Fuck and I mean FUCK Sydney airport pwhatch First tell us if Culbert has used the quiet period to upgrade the airport. pwhatch Ah, that renowned epidemiologist Geoff Culbert.