McGowan in the firing line over claim WA jobs would be lost if hard border comes down

Western Australia's peak tourism body has joined a growing chorus of critics calling out Premier Mark McGowan's claims jobs would be lost if the government opened travel bubbles with other low-risk states.

Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall rubbished Mr McGowan's comments yesterday that 'high income' West Australians would just leave the state to spend money over east, and said more jobs would be saved with interstate tourism than without it.

The Premier held a press conference in Port Hedland on Thursday afternoon.Credit:9 News Perth

"Western Australian visitors have saved regional accommodation and hospitality businesses after months being shut down, however tourism businesses cannot be sustained without interstate visitors and workers," Mr Hall said.

"We need the backpackers and grey nomads to cross the border from South Australia to come in and help these businesses.

"Perth businesses, airports, hotels, bus and coach companies are going bust because they don’t have interstate business."

Tourism figures released Friday revealed intrastate visitor spending grew by $72 million in July 2020 compared to the year before.

But it was not nearly enough to compensate for the $286 million lost from the lack of interstate visitors, on top of the $193 million lost from international visitors.

Mr Hall said he didn't know how the sector would cope at Christmas and warned tens of thousands of jobs could be lost when JobKeeper supports fell away in January.

Comments could undermine health argument

On Thursday, Mr McGowan stood by WA's hard border despite advice from the state's chief health officer suggesting it could be safe to open up to low-risk states if the WA government was satisfied with their border controls.

Mr McGowan said he was not yet satisfied with other states' border measures and was opting for a cautious response, arguing the virus would devastate the economy if it made it into WA.

But it was Mr McGowan's criticisms of "doomsayers and naysayers" over east who wanted the WA border open for their own "self-interests" that raised eyebrows.

"That’s why they are advocating for this," he said.

"They are not advocating for this for any other reason than that they want to see Western Australian income spent in Sydney or Brisbane, or wherever it might be."

In a second press conference that day, Mr McGowan tried to clarify that the hard border policy was based on health advice, but it didn't convince federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who said the WA Premier had run an economic "protectionist" argument rather than a health-based one, which flew in the face of the constitution.

"He was arguing that West Australians, who enjoy certain rights as Australian citizens under our constitution, that West Australians somehow should be prevented from spending their money in South Australia or the Northern Territory for state protectionist reasons, rather than public health reasons," Mr Cormann said.

"All I am saying is Section 92 of the constitution is pretty explicit. It is the core foundation of our Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia. That is, that trade and movement of people across state borders must be absolutely free."

Billionaire Clive Palmer, who is currently engaged in a High Court challenge to WA's hard border, jumped on Mr McGowan's comments.

"McGowan's finally told people the real reason why he closed the borders was to lock them up and keep their money in WA, it has nothing to do with the virus, we've all known that for a long time," he said.

Anne Twomey, Sydney University's professor of constitutional law, said Mr McGowan's comments could undermine the state's argument in the High Court challenge – set to be heard on November 3 and 4 – but it was unclear if they could be used as evidence without delaying the hearings.

"Section 92 as we know prohibits the states from engaging in protectionist behaviour that discriminates against interstate trade and commerce, so if the reason for shutting the border was protectionism and that was established before the High Court, then that would certainly undermine the WA position," she said.

"From a High Court point of view, the issue is this ongoing question of timing and what evidence do they rely on.

"If they're just relying on the evidence that has already been received and adjudicated upon by Justice Rangiah in the Federal Court then anything said now is probably irrelevant, but of course the court could take a different view.

"It's really unclear how the court could or should deal with this moving pandemic because the facts change all the time."

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