Every state and territory has agreed to devise a strategy to bring down hard borders and reopen the country by Christmas – except one.
A meeting of the national cabinet today discussed a number of issues aimed to ending months of chaos, confusion and economic damage caused by border restrictions.
But Scott Morrison’s bid for unity was derailed by Western Australia, which was the sole jurisdiction to not sign up to an ambitious new goal of reopening by December.
That prompted Mr Morrison to declare that the era of “100 per cent consensus” that had been the basis of national cabinet’s operation was now over.
News.com.au has confirmed the Prime Minister opened up today’s meeting by telling state and territory leaders that it would no longer be run on a consensus approach.
“He opened up with it so it’s, ‘I am changing the rules so I don’t get rolled’,’’ a state official said.
But federal sources said it was a “very positive meeting” with most states happy to sign up to a national definition of hotspots to move towards reopening borders.
There was progress on agreeing on a federal definition of a COVID-19 hotspot, but Mr Morrison said more consultation would take place.
Although acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly had provided a good starting point.
When decided, the definition will be an important component of a devised plan to get to ‘stage three’ of the Commonwealth’s plan for the country, announced in May.
“What’s different about this plan from the last one is it just isn’t about how many people you can have in a cafe, as important as that is, it’s about how the testing regimes have to work, the availability of passenger manifests for people moving around the country, the sort of surveillance testing arrangements… the specific testing arrangements and the sort of ratios you need to hit to ensure that you can have a confident about the level of outbreak, if it were to occur in any place,” Mr Morrison said.
“In all of these areas, there’s a necessity to put the protections in place so, as we open up, that we can be confident and states can look at each other and be more confident about how people can move between the various jurisdictions.”
The new goal is to have the plan enacted by December, but Mr Morrison said one state didn’t commit to it — WA.
The PM said discussions with Premier Mark McGowan would continue.
“Western Australia has a very different border and a very different economy than most of the other states and territories where these decisions have been made,” he said.
“There are not large border towns. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there are virtually none along the Western Australian border.
“Their economy is of a much greater scale than the South Australian and the Tasmanian economies.
“So, they will watch carefully, they will look on, and the thing about our new way of working in National Cabinet is the door always remains open.
“And they are always able to join us at a subsequent time. And I believe there are many things they can offer in that process.”
“It is relentless. It is intimidating. But I will not be intimidated,’’ she said.
“If we all focused our efforts on Victoria and NSW and getting the community transmission under control, right, to the extent that there was no community transmission – and that is the advice of the Deputy Health Officer of the country.
“That is the aim. They moved from elimination, to suppression, to no community transmission. If we focus on that, there will come a time when everybody could open up.”
Mr Morrison conceded that national cabinet had disagreed on issues, but insisted it would find a way to work through disagreements.
“At the times when sometimes our frustrations have been greatest, and the tensions have been at their peak, that has been exactly the same time when we have been reminded of just how important it is that we continue this great work of our Federation and how it has delivered for Australians, for over a century.
“The national cabinet began from a realisation that, if we each went and tried to go our own way, that in the face of something at the time we could barely imagine, that we wouldn’t prevail, and that we would fall short. And so our federation instincts kicked in.
“I remember the day vividly. There was no disagreement, there was no debate about it. We all looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve gotta do this. And we’ve gotta come together’.
“Now, from time to time, those federation instincts have grown a little faint, but I can tell you today, once again, as I find each and every time I bring this national cabinet together, they find it again, and we find the way to work through.”
He confirmed that the notion of 100 per cent consensus on any issue wasn’t a practical way to operate national cabinet.
“And so what we will do is we will set out areas where we can come together, and get as many states and territories as possible to come around that agreement,” Mr Morrison said.
“Not everyone has to get on the bus for the bus to leave the station. But it is important the bus leaves the station, and we all agree on that. We all agree on that.”
More to come
Originally published as One state derails PM’s border plan