‘Sanity prevails’: Qld border opens, PM takes one last shot
Border closure chaos that smashed tourism, stopped people from getting to work and hospital, split families and was blamed for the death of a baby is finally set to end next week, with Queensland reopening to northern NSW.
The Palaszczuk Government, which slammed shut the border to all of NSW six weeks ago, on Tuesday relaxed the hard line restrictions which have caused widespread economic and social damage on both sides of the state line.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that the border would reopen to residents from five major northern NSW local government areas, including Byron, Ballina and Lismore, from October 1.
The move will end weeks of chaos and heartache for cross-border residents who have been unable to get to work, attend medical appointments, visit sick and dying family members or attend funerals.
A Ballina woman lost one of her unborn twins last month after deciding to fly to Sydney rather than wait for a medical exemption to come to Queensland for emergency surgery.
The decision will allow tens of thousands of northern NSW residents to travel freely into Queensland in what a tourism leader says is a 'ray of sunshine' for the state's COVID-battered tourism industry.
It will also allow cooped-up Queenslanders to venture over the border for trips to holiday haven Byron Bay.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the move would free up travel into Queensland for another 152,000 residents in northern NSW.
"These are people who might live in NSW but very often they feel a closer affinity to Queensland," Mr Miles said.
"They live closer to Queensland than they do to Sydney. Many of us see these places, like Byron and Ballina, as local places and this means that we will be able to travel there, residents from there will be able to travel here relatively freely for health care, for work, to visit family, and/or friends."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a "common sense" decision to expand the border bubble between Queensland and New South Wales.
"Not before time. And I think that will just further assist getting people back into jobs and making sure that we live alongside the virus and not have the virus dictate how we live," Mr Morrison told Sky News.
Business and tourism leaders on both sides of the border welcomed the relaxation.
"It's a ray of sunshine in a grim scenario," Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said.
"We're very pleased to finally hear some good news. The case for the full reopening of the border with NSW is strengthening by the day but this is certainly a very welcome first step."
Master Builders Queensland deputy chief Paul Bidwell said the hard border closure had caused 'a lot of angst' for the construction industry on both sides of the Tweed.
"A lot of our members who have got work down there (in northern NSW) and haven't been able to get there are going to be very happy," he said.
Byron Mayor Simon Richardson said 'sanity has prevailed' and his community was 'stoked'.
"It's just going to be fantastic for many of our residents who have been incredibly impacted negatively, whether economically or just trying to visit families or attend medical appointments on the Queensland side of the border," he said.
"There's a whole lot of our community that's going to be stoked to be getting back to a sense of normality. Sanity has prevailed."
Mr Richardson said about $200 million worth of construction projects in the Byron-Ballina region had been in jeopardy because Queensland-based contractors were unable to cross the border to work on them.
Hundreds of doctors and nurses and other cross-border workers had also been left in limbo by the hard border closure, he said.
"Regardless of which side of the border you live on, economically and socially we are one region," he said.
Byron Bay resident Dmitry Obisenko says Queensland 'is a beautiful state' and can't wait for the borders to be opened up again.
"It's been awful we can't wait for them to be open again to go further north because right now we are kind of stuck in northern NSW and can't wait to go to Queensland," Mr Obisenko said.
"We'd love to go up to the Sunshine Coast to go see some friends up there and we haven't seen them in a while."
Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce president Hilary Jacobs said the partial border reopening was a 'step in the right direction' but warned it could also backfire on Queensland's tourism industry.
Ms Jacobs said many Queenslanders would now head to Byron Bay and Ballina to holiday rather than stay in the state.
She also called for a better border pass system, saying many people were 'put off' from trying to cross the border because they had to reapply for a new pass every week.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland spokeswoman Amanda Rohan said while the easing of border restrictions was 'a good start', a nationally consistent framework on border restrictions was essential.
"Business in Queensland and around Australia need certainty and to be informed of what future scenarios will include should further COVID outbreaks occur," she said.
Originally published as 'Sanity prevails': Qld border opens, PM takes one last shot