‘So soon and so suddenly’: Queensland border closure takes businesses, locals by surprise

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This weekend’s sudden Queensland border closure due to the second wave of coronavirus in Australia’s southern states has sparked mixed reactions — from disappointment to relief — among Queenslanders and business owners across the state.

It comes as a wave of people have been caught either bypassing restrictions or falsifying border declarations so they could bypass quarantine.

Tourism operators said shutting the border to nearly 8 million residents from New South Wales and the ACT could potentially decimate their struggling businesses, with a mass of cancellations.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) chief executive officer Daniel Gschwind stopped short of saying the decision to shut the border was wrong.

“It came so soon and so suddenly — we did not anticipate a whole border closure again,” Mr Gschwind said.

“We thought the situation in New South Wales was not developing too badly.

Mr Gschwind said there would “be a wave of cancellations”.

“It is happening already… in an environment that makes it very difficult to plan for the future,” he said.

“It is tough times for all of us, but we are calling on the government for some guidance to create a future — we need a path towards it.”

Daniel Gschwind stands at the Cairns lagoon with sculptures in the background.
Mr Gschwind says there will “be a wave of cancellations” in the tourism industry.(ABC News: Brendan Mounter)

Decision made without warning, consultation

Peak industry body the Accommodation Association of Australia (AAOA) described the border shutdown as “extremely disappointing, given there has only been a total of 21 cases in the past four weeks”.

AAOA chief executive officer Dean Long said while he agreed health considerations had to be at the forefront of decision making, this decision was made without warning or consultation.

“It will now mean an acceleration of job losses in Queensland’s tourism sector,” Mr Long said.

“Decisions such as this destroy the confidence of businesses and tourism-reliant communities.”

A police officer at a checkpoint directs motorists lined up at Queensland-NSW border at Coolangatta.
People have been caught either bypassing restrictions or falsifying border declarations.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

‘The odds are lousy’

However, economist Nick Behrens said “sometimes you have to lose a little, not to lose the lot”.

Mr Behrens said it was important to keep the economic impact of interstate travel into Queensland in perspective.

“In terms of the importance on interstate domestic tourism, its importance is generally overstated for Queensland,” he said.

“It is worth $5.9 billion to Queensland each year and that is a lot of money, but overall economic activity is worth $359 billion a year — so it represents no more than 1.6 per cent overall.”

Mr Behrens said “from an economic point of view, there is an overwhelming case to shut the border”.

“If you were a gambler at a casino or betting on a horse race, or as an investor, you would not risk $100 for the sake of gaining an extra $1.60,” he said.

‘Best of a bad decision’

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) spokeswoman Amanda Rohan said she understood the decision to close Queensland’s borders again was based on health advice.

“Will it impact on business? There is no denying that, especially for those who rely on interstate travellers,” Ms Rohan said.

“Conditions are incredibly tough for those sectors, but we also know business generally does not have the bandwidth to go through another shutdown in Queensland — it is the thing they fear the most.

Ms Rohan said their recent Pulse survey found most businesses has “12 months in the tank on the back of any stimulus”.

“It is time the State Government stepped in with an economic recovery plan,” Ms Rohan said.

Queensland-NSW border concrete marker at Coolangatta on Queensland's Gold Coast.
Some workers on the Gold Coast live just on the other side of the border in NSW.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

‘Liars who put lives at risk’

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate said those attempting to bypass restrictions are “liars who put lives at risk”.

“They are largely to blame for tougher border restrictions being introduced this weekend,” Cr Tate said.

Cr Tate said he would work with police to lessen the inconvenience for those who lived close to the border.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate standing in front of media microphones.
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate says those attempting to bypass restrictions are “liars who put lives at risk”.(ABC Gold Coast: Jennifer Huxley)

But operators like Janita Hanwood, who runs a border cafe at Coolangatta, said no matter which way you looked at it, it was a lose-lose situation.

Ms Hanwood said it was going to continue to make it very difficult for local people to cross.

“They’re going to have to apply for more exemptions,” Ms Hanwood said.

“We were only just starting to build it up again, then with everything happening just over the last two weeks, things have really quieted down again.”

She said she had “almost gone back to the beginning when we first started with the COVID-19 outbreak and everything went into lockdown”.

“I’d say we’ve lost at least 50 per cent of our business and we’re expecting that to stay like that for a long time until everything sorts itself out”.

Ms Hanwood said some of her workers lived just on the other side of the border in New South Wales, so getting to work would continue to be a struggle.

A woman standing outside her street cafe
Ms Hanwood said the restrictions would again make it difficult for local people to move freely.(ABC News: Lexy Hamilton-Smith)

‘Greatest news in weeks’

Meanwhile, in regional Queensland, some locals welcomed the border decision, saying it was the “greatest news in weeks” because it would save lives.

And NSW holiday-maker Neville Mitchell was not fussed about this weekend’s border shutdown at all.

The retiree has decided to keep on enjoying the Gold Coast sunshine, rather than head home to Shellharbour, south of Woollongong.

“I’ve got a brother in Rockhampton, and my son has just moved to the Sunshine Coast from Airlie Beach, so I can go and visit them,” he said.

“I’ve got a mate at Bargara, so I can hang out at his place too.

“I don’t want to go home if the COVID’s getting out of hand down there.

A group of men sitting at a beachfront picnic table
Neville Mitchell (front-right) outside Greenmount surf club on the Gold Coast.(ABC News: Cathy Border)

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