The clock is ticking for Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has a 4pm deadline to open state borders or face legal action taken by One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson.
Ms Hanson has demanded Queensland’s Labor government reopen the state’s borders by Thursday afternoon, or face legal action in the High Court. The One Nation senator made the threat on Wednesday after accusing Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk of “destroying people’s lives” and livelihoods, and branding the border closures unconstitutional.
It is understood Senator Hanson is claiming closures violate section 92 of the constitution, which guarantees residents of Australia can move freely between each of the states and territories.
The Queensland state government is under pressure on a number of political fronts to reverse the closures put in place during the coronavirus crisis to stem the spread of the deadly infection.
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The closures have been criticised by the tourism industry, which is bearing the brunt of job and financial losses, LNP MPs and the NSW Premier, who all believe they have gone on for too long.
Senator Hanson’s party and representing law firm Mahoneys sent a letter to Ms Palaszczuk on Tuesday telling her she has until Thursday to respond, and asking to see the documented advice on the closures from the state’s chief medical officer.
“We act for various persons who consider the border ban is invalid under Commonwealth constitution and was not authorised by the Public Health Act 2005,” the letter stated.
“If you do not give that undertaking, and if you do not otherwise satisfy us that the border ban is valid, we expect to receive instructions to commence proceedings in the High Court of Australia seeking a declaration that the border ban is invalid.
“Every day that the border ban remains in place, it is doing irreparable harm to families and businesses in Queensland and other parts of the nation. The border ban is inflicting this harm at a time when people of Queensland and Australia are already under grave and economic stress. Every day you delay, the greater the resultant harm is.”
Senator Hanson told Nine’s Today program on Wednesday that if the request was ignored, a challenge to the constitutionality of the closures will be filed in the High Court by the end of the week.
“I couldn’t let this rest. Annastacia Palaszczuk is actually destroying people’s lives, their livelihoods and businesses and they can’t go on,” Senator Hanson said.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles hit back at Senator Hanson, saying she’s simply “desperate” for headlines.
“It was only a month ago, I think, that Pauline Hanson was saying we should have a border in north Queensland,” Mr Miles said, according to the Courier Mail.
“I think she is more desperate to seek headlines than she is concerned about this virus and its impact on Queenslanders.
“The Queensland Government is putting the interests, the health and the wellbeing of Queenslanders first and will continue to do so regardless of what Pauline Hanson or her mates have to say.”
Earlier today, the tourism minister’s office released figures indicating the state will take a $2 billion hit to the economy if state borders remain closed to other states until September.
The figures show that of all the states in the country, Queensland has the highest reliance on other states visiting for recreational travel, with just under 50 per cent of the total being from interstate tourists.
Speaking on Sky News on Thursday, Senator Hanson labelled the Queensland Premier as “pig-headed” and a “dictator” who is “destroying” people’s lives by keeping the borders closed.
“There’s no real reason to keep the borders shut,” she said.
The state government has previously dismissed the legal threat, saying it has to balance the timing of the reopening of the borders with medical advice. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the states that have closed their borders – Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania – were sovereign states and could make those decisions.
“But they’ve got to be accountable for it, though. There is no medical advice that we received nationally,” he told the Ten Network’s Studio Ten program.
Constitutional Law expert George Williams, however, told Sky News that the One Nation leader may succeed in the High Court.
“They may be on a winner on this one,” Mr Williams said of Hanson’s legal action.
“This is an area where the constitution speaks in emphatic terms about free movement. It’s also true that this can’t continue forever … if they can’t show that medical evidence is enough to close the borders, they are in with a shot and it’s possible the High Court will strike down these border closures.”
Meanwhile, South Australian Premier Steven Marshall says there would be no “net gain” in opening his state back up to tourists as the row over state border closures ramps up. Alongside Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory continue to stand firm on their decision to keep state borders closed until the coronavirus threat lifts. When asked about the border closure, SA Premier Steven Marshall was emphatic that they would remain closed and insisted there would be no “net gain” in reopening them in winter.
– With AAP