Businesses feeling weight of WA’s hard border call for more ‘sensible’ and flexible system – ABC News
Kevin Williams should be on one of his remote runs, pushing out from Kununurra deep into the Northern Territory and even into far western Queensland to meet his clients.
- WA’s hard border remains in place indefinitely at this stage
- The effect on many businesses has been brutal
- Business owners are calling for a more flexible approach
His commercial pest control and fire safety equipment business Kununurra Rural Traders has been operating across the border for more than 20 years.
He has created a big customer base in the NT, and in October he normally sets out on a long road trip servicing clients in small towns and pastoral properties.
The ongoing hard border closure has been brutal.
Mr Williams said it made doing business in the NT or Queensland virtually impossible, even if he was granted a permit to cross over.
“Having three people quarantine for two weeks each is very costly. In April our turnover dropped 95 per cent, in May it started to pick up,” Mr Williams said from Fitzroy Crossing, on a shortened version of the run.
WA closed its borders for the first time in its history to stop the spread of COVID-19.(ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Jarrod Lucas)
He wanted a travel bubble between the shires and local government areas on each side of the border.
“We have pastoral properties up against the border that can’t use Kununurra or Halls Creek to use for shopping or services or anything else,” Mr Williams said.
“It’s just a nightmare.
“We need a bubble to operate over there as service providers.”
Confusion over the McGowan Government’s position on the hard border this week came as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a report on the impact of the closed border on businesses.
It found short-term business confidence had improved due to record levels of Government financial support, success at controlling COVID-19 in the state and reopening the domestic economy.
But there was considerable pessimism over what would happen over the next 12 months, with 38 per cent of businesses believing the economy would worsen.
The report said this reflected uncertainty over how long the border would remain closed.
It said businesses in the regions to the north and east of Perth were most affected, including 74 per cent in the Kimberley, 70 per cent in the Goldfields and 60 per cent in the Pilbara.
The main problems were supply chain disruptions and difficulties getting skilled workers from interstate.
‘We need to have a timeframe’
Helen Thorne, the manager at Kimberley Fine Diamonds in Kununurra, understands the supply problem too well.
“That’s been made difficult by the lack of reliable and available transport to and from the eastern states and internationally, where some of our goods are sourced,” Ms Thorne said.
“And then obviously the biggest impact on the business is the lack of customers coming from interstate. While we need the goods to perform our business, we also need the customers to sell to.”
Helen Thorne says the closed border has caused supply problems and clients have dried up.(ABC News: Rebecca Nadge)
If the border stayed closed for another six months, she predicted it would become hard for the business to continue.
“I would like them to do whatever is the safest option for all West Australians or all Australians,” Ms Thorne said.
“I’m not going to say that I think they should open up the borders, but I think we need to have a timeframe on when or if or how it’s going to happen.
“There’s a lot of businesses that can’t function without real people coming to see them.”
Larry Lopez, a partner at Perth-based Australian Venture Consultants, which provides strategic and policy advice to governments, mining companies, Indigenous corporations, private equity firms and banks, said the uncertainty was bad for business.
Larry Lopez says uncertainty over the border closure is bad for business.(Supplied)
“I’d like to see a lot more clarity and some sensible restrictions. The hard border is overly restrictive, there needs to be a little bit more flexibility. It’s not sustainable over the long term,” said Mr Lopez, who normally frequently travels interstate for work and had lost business because of the closed border.
Cormann keeps the pressure on
Federal Minister and senior West Australian Liberal senator Mathias Cormann on Friday again called on Premier Mark McGowan to ease border restrictions, in particular for businesses with clients in the Northern Territory and South Australia.
“I would like the Premier to explain to the people of Western Australia … a business owner in Kununurra cannot visit his clients in the Northern Territory without having to go into quarantine for two weeks after having done so,” Senator Cormann said.
“You give me one good reason. I mean, the Northern Territory has been in a better, stronger, COVID-safe position than Western Australia for longer.
“You tell me why a business in Western Australia or a family in Western Australia should suffer the inconvenience when there’s no good public health reason to impose that inconvenience.”
Mr McGowan’s office was contacted for a response, but referred the ABC to the Premier’s previous comments in Parliament on Thursday, and to the latest health advice.
“I am of the current view that the [closed border] directions should remain as currently promulgated but should be reviewed in two weeks’ time,” Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson wrote in the advice.
Mr McGowan told Parliament that advice made it clear, at this point in time, the border needed to remain in place to all states and territories.
“That is the confirmed position by the Chief Health Officer and if you want to question that, that means you are impugning his integrity,” he said.
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