Western Australia has always had an unusual idiosyncratic beauty about it. It’s home to some of the country’s most breathtaking landscape, biggest personalities and hungriest sharks. For years we’ve regaled the rest of the country with our ‘wild west’ antics and special thanks go to the Micklebergs, Brian Burke, Laurie Connell, Alan Bond, Dallas Dempster and Rose Porteous. Perth may have seemed like a sleepy old town but it wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
Fast forward to 2020, we are more sophisticated and more of a city than a big town. And insofar as COVID-19 is concerned, Premier McGowan handled the initial shutdown and intra-state reopening very well. On 27 June 2020, we moved to stage 4, but our move to stage 5 has been postponed to 24 October 2020 without any substantive explanation and without any indication as to what health metrics need to be achieved to signal its arrival.
We are looking to government for a plan to open interstate borders and get the economy moving again while managing virus-related risks. We can’t paddle around in our intra-state bubble forever.
And risks can be managed. It is not as though the only options are zero cases or corpses in military trucks lined up at the crematorium. And if they are the only options, then the virus isn’t the problem but rather governmental ineptitude in dealing with any level of public health adversity. New South Wales, post the Ruby Princess debacle, has set the standard of effectively managing outbreaks without mothballing the economy. Victoria not so much.
There is no reason why the west can’t be equally as effective as NSW.
But we keep being told border restrictions are popular. This was again postulated last week by the grovelling sycophants at the West Australian who published a poll stating that McGowan had a 91% approval rating and that 92% were in favour of border restrictions. Just to clarify, the poll surveyed 837 people. Yup, 837 out of a population of 2.76 million. Regardless of how you try to tart that up, that result is the lovechild of unconvincing and statistically insignificant. And even if that (or any) result was statistically significant – so what if it’s popular? Just because something is popular doesn’t make it right. Crystal meth is also super popular in WA but you don’t see anyone extolling its virtues.
Then, on Friday, Mark McGowan, hands on hips, haughtily announced to the country that WA wouldn’t agree to a date to open its domestic border and that it would set a date when WA’s health advice recommends it, but that might be some time away.
And with the flick of a switch, WA became an expanded Hutt River province and Mr McGowan, the legend in his own lunchbox.
This all makes no sense.
In WA, we have zero cases and zero cases of community transmissions and the same goes for the ACT, SA, NT and Tasmania. At the very least, there is almost no risk in allowing travel to these jurisdictions. We can’t just keep WA cut off because it is easier than effectively managing the virus and any outbreaks. Families have been kept apart for months, tourism and hospitality are drowning, retail is riding a rollercoaster and gross state product has slumped.
Despite this, McGowan suggests that the border restrictions are protecting our economy and that unlike the rest of the country, WA is not currently in a recession and is the engine room of the national economy.
If there was a cherry-picking Grand Final our Premier would be best on ground.
Truth is, we may not technically be in recession but we don’t have a particularly healthy economy. WA has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country and is the not-so-proud owner of 6 of the top 10 suburbs suffering mortgage stress. On Friday, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that 3 in 5 WA businesses were suffering due to WA’s hard borders. At best, we have a two-speed economy with the mining industry largely unaffected but with many other sectors really doing it tough.
Even so, McGowan tells us that business confidence is buzzing, retail trade is increasing, businesses are hiring. (Did I mention we have a state election on March 13 next year?) The problem is our economy isn’t powering on its own steam; it’s on a sugar high of federal government handouts which will begin to tail off shortly. It’s not hard to see the proverbial is about to acquaint itself with the fan but it seems our premier is too busy preening himself to notice.
And just when I thought the West Australian couldn’t prostrate itself any further, the front cover of Saturday’s paper was so cringeworthy even Labor voters were struck by nausea. It had a garish caricature of the premier, replete with black swan regalia, allegorically marking Westralia day. And while parochial politicking might leave Sandgropers beaming with pride, it isn’t going to kickstart our economy regardless how much we think we contribute to the national economy.
We need to park the ‘us and them’ garbage. Thanks to this enduring half-baked mindset, we almost didn’t become part of the federation and then nearly fell off the map of Australia after the 1933 secession referendum. And our premier is playing on that mindset to shore up support for the hard borders and demonize anyone who objects to this policy. In truth, being part of the federation makes this already great state better.
And the dire lacklustre state of our local media means we have almost no hope of having informed voters. Unfortunately, the few voices of reason get lost amongst the fawning and the fear-mongering. It’s no wonder the wild west has become home to a bunch of sooks lathering themselves in provincial denial, fantasizing that somehow WA is going to ride off into the sunset, totally unscathed, while economies around the world are shattered due to shutdowns and travel restrictions.
We can dig as much dirt out of the ground as we like, but it won’t bring prosperity across the state. We need us all back in business. We need our borders open. We need a federal solution to a federal problem.
And we need to let Mr McGowan know he’s just jumped the shark.
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