Australian states split over opening borders for domestic tourism

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the bulk of all social distancing restrictions removed by July under a three-step plan. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 21 May 2020

Australian states split over opening borders for domestic tourism

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the bulk of all social distancing restrictions removed by July under a three-step plan
  • But the implementation of the federal plan is down to the leaders of individual state and territories

SYDNEY: Australian state and territory leaders bickered on Thursday over whether to reopen internal borders, a major step to rejuvenating the country’s $50 billion domestic tourism industry, as part of measures to ease coronavirus restrictions.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he wants the bulk of all social distancing restrictions removed by July under a three-step plan, as the country continues to report low daily numbers of new COVID-19 infections.
But the implementation of the federal plan is down to the leaders of individual state and territories, who come from opposing political parties and disagree on how safe it is to allow unrestricted movement throughout the country.
New South Wales (NSW) state, the country’s most populous, has called for all borders to be opened as a critical step to giving the ailing economy a much-needed boost.
The Reserve Bank of Australia earlier this week said it believes the country is facing an “unprecedented” economic contraction due to the pandemic, though massive fiscal and monetary stimulus would help cushion the blow.
“For Australia to really move forward as a nation during this very difficult economic time as well as difficult health time, we do need our borders down,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.
Around 120 million domestic overnight tourists spent a record $50.4 billion last year, according to official government data. That accounted for almost half of all tourism spending, including by international visitors, of $95.2 billion.
Australia’s tourism sector was one of the country’s hardest hit by social distancing restrictions, including the closure of its international borders to non-residents and a ban of non-essential domestic travel.
Nearly 600,000 people were in April forced out of work by the coronavirus restrictions. Australia’s unemployment rate effectively rose to 9.6percent.
Secretary to the Australian Treasury Steven Kennedy on Thursday said unemployment will likely rise through the next few months, with a sharp economic rebound now unlikely.
“I’m not predicting a V-shape recovery. But given the nature of the shock – if the government responds well with its fiscal levers, we needn’t have an L-shaped recovery, which is what people would think when it comes to a depression,” Kennedy told Australian lawmakers in Canberra.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Wednesday there was no medical reason to keep borders closed, but many smaller states, which have reported very low numbers of infections and few to no deaths, remain reluctant.
“It’s odd, New South Wales is saying don’t catch public transport in Sydney ... yet they’re saying ‘why can’t New South Wales people fly to Western Australia,” said Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan.
Queensland state Chief Medical Officer Jeannette Young supported calls to keep borders closed, saying “one case can cause an enormous setback to our plan to open up our communities.”
Australia has reported just over 7,000 COVID-19 infections, including 100 deaths, well below figures reported by other developed countries.


France checks video claim for Paris knife attack

Updated 36 min 59 sec ago

France checks video claim for Paris knife attack

  • Friday’s attack left two badly wounded outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris
  • Six people are still in custody, including the suspected perpetrator

PARIS: French investigators were Sunday studying a video claiming responsibility for the meat cleaver attack in Paris that targeted satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo as the government condemned an act of “Islamist terrorism.”
Six people were still in custody, including the suspected perpetrator of Friday’s attack that left two badly wounded outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris.
The man is an 18-year-old born in Pakistan named as Hassan A, according to a source close to the investigation.
Held since Friday, he told investigators he had carried out the attack to avenge the republication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo, which was the target of a January 2015 massacre by Islamist gunmen.
The investigators were now seeking to authenticate a video which they believe could show Hassan A. announcing he was about to carry out the attack.
“We see him crying, chanting. He claims in advance his act by evoking the republication of the caricatures,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
“It is a kind of manifesto, he announces he is going to act,” the source said, adding: “It is not a claim of allegiance to an organization.”
The suspect was born in the Pakistan town of Mandi Bahauddin and while he speaks a little French he has needed a translator during questioning, the source close to the investigation said.
He is believed to have entered France three years ago while still a minor and had showed no risk of radicalization despite once being stopped for carrying a weapon.
The two people wounded were employees of prize-winning TV production agency Premieres Lignes, whose offices are in the same block that used to house Charlie Hebdo in the center of the capital .
However it is not believed that the two, whose lives are not in danger, were specifically targeted.
The man mistakenly believed Charlie Hebdo’s offices were still in that building and wanted to attack journalists from the magazine, according to his statement to investigators.
One person arrested was released overnight. But as well as the main suspect eight others were still being held.
They include his younger brother and people who lived with him at his last place of residence in northern Paris.
Police on Sunday also detained a woman who had been living at the same residence, a judicial source said, without giving further details.
The arrests were aimed at understanding the “environment” of the main suspect, a source close to the case said, adding: “Everything leads us to think he acted alone.”
An Algerian man, detained close to the scene of the attack, had also been released. His lawyer said her client had actually been “heroically” chasing the attacker.
The attack came three weeks into a trial in Paris of suspected accomplices in the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket that left 17 people dead.
The bloodshed heralded a wave of Islamist violence in France that has so far left 258 people dead.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin acknowledged that the authorities could have become complacent over the terror risk after a relative lull in high-profile attacks in recent years.
“We are in an extremely critical situation, we are at war with Islamist terrorism. Maybe, collectively, we put this behind us,” he said.
Darmanin said the threat was still real, noting 32 attacks had been foiled over the last three years. “It is around once a month,” he said.
President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government has in recent weeks begun using increasingly tough rhetoric on domestic security issues in what analysts see as a shift to the right.
Macron’s anti-terror adviser Laurent Nunez told AFP that France had “improved in the detection” of extremists but “still had to tighten the net more.”