With an eye on political gain, premiers and chief ministers are shutting borders despite the pain inflicted on the rest of the country. And the Morrison government can do little but foot the bill, writes Phillip Coorey.

Until now. Out of nowhere, the barriers have gone back up and people have had their lives disrupted, their livelihoods ruined or threatened, and their stress levels amplified as a consequence of the actions of political leaders in other states and territories.
Apart from complaining on social media, there’s not a thing people can do about it. Not even cast a protest vote.
The NSW government’s decision to leave about 100 Canberrans stranded at the Victorian border for a week was a terrible way to treat people.
The most glaring example is the effects of the outbreak in Victoria on people and businesses outside the state.
The whole country is entitled to an explanation of what went wrong with quarantine and contact tracing, but all we have witnessed this week, in response to a parliamentary inquiry, has been obfuscation and denial by the Andrews government.
And the official judicial inquiry called by the state government has been postponed to November, for no plausible reason.
While Victoria continues to fight its way out of the quagmire, the responses of other leaders are arguably becoming disproportionate.
Much has already been said about the largely political motivation behind Annastacia Palaszczuk’s closure of Queensland’s borders with NSW and the ACT, given she faces an election in October.
Ditto with Mark McGowan in Western Australia, who faces polls in March next year, and this week proposed keeping his borders shut to everybody until after then.
Scott Morrison tried to push him to open up to states that pose no threat, and was flayed by public opinion in the west.
Reversal of the race to open up
Not so long ago, there was a belief that states would race each other to open their economies and gain a competitive advantage. Now it’s a race to put up the shutters, safe in the knowledge that the feds will foot the bill.
“They’re all shit scared,” says a federal source.
The Morrison administration knows a federal government can never win a fight with a premier. The WA backlash was a salient reminder. Consequently, it is having to restrain itself.
This week, the behaviour intensified. South Australia shut out Victorians in border communities, cutting them off from schools, shopping and work. Palaszczuk is poised to do the same to the NSW border communities.
The NSW government’s decision to leave about 100 Canberrans stranded at the Victorian border for a week was a terrible way to treat people. These folk had all the requisite paperwork enabling them to drive the three hours home and isolate in the ACT.
In the dead of night last week, some bureaucratic microbe in NSW changed the regulations and these people were left to rot, even as special arrangements were being made to enable federal MPs from Victoria to come to Canberra and self-quarantine in preparation for the resumption of Parliament the week after next.
The NSW government would not even allow these people to return with an Australian Federal Police escort.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, one of the few leaders to have kept his head throughout the crisis, was forced to spend valuable time nutting out a compromise with the Berejiklian government. This involved an escorted drive back to Canberra, with the government mandating even where people could go to the dunny.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner, who faces an election on Saturday week, has joined the fray. Out of nowhere, he proposed shutting his borders for the next 18 months. This was viewed cynically through the prism of the impending election, and few expect the pledge to survive beyond that. But these sorts of actions have real and tragic consequences.
Electoral advantage comes first
The problem with politics is that the ultimate arbiter of an action is what will win an election. “I make no apology for keeping the citizens of (insert state/territory here) safe” has become the new catchcry of our state and territory leaders.
How many people outside the NT, for example, have cancelled holidays, or business or family trips, as a result of Gunner’s threatened edict? How many tourist operators in the NT have been pushed to breaking point as a consequence? How many elderly people have been shattered by the last-minute cancellation of a planned visit by a loved one?
And why would anyone in their right mind plan a trip to any of these states, knowing the door could be shut on a whim?
All of this has real consequences. Everywhere.
For example, a reader, Jared, flew from Victoria to Perth this week to visit his sick father. He had the requisite permission forms and was assured pre-departure he could quarantine with his dad.
Upon arrival, he and the other passengers were herded away by police and forced into hotel quarantine at their own expense. Jared’s paperwork and assurances accounted for nothing. Unable to afford the hotel bill and banned from seeing his father, he opted to cut his losses and fly home. He saw his dad briefly at the airport.
There are thousands of similar stories across the nation.
On Wednesday, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham warned the states not to expect the ongoing bailout of their tourism sectors, which are suffering due to border closures that Canberra deems “disproportionate”.
Birmingham’s broadside was aimed predominantly at NT and Queensland, but was emblematic of a broader frustration in Canberra at the unravelling of the national consensus.
Memo to governments: Keep your people safe but treat them with logic and compassion. Otherwise don’t expect them to keep making extraordinary sacrifices at your request, regardless of whether or not they can vote for you.