'We know businesses are hurting': Qld Tourism Ministerby Mark Ludlow
Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones said the coronavirus was still a real health threat, despite the economic carnage the virus and her government's border closures are causing the state's multibillion-dollar tourism industry.
As Queensland recorded its seventh death from COVID-19 on Wednesday – when a 30-year-old miner from Blackwater died, becoming Australia's youngest victim – Ms Jones defended the Palaszczuk government's cautious approach to easing restrictions.
She said the coronavirus had caused $7 billion to $9 billion damage to the state's $27 billion tourism sector and resulted in the loss of 70,000 jobs in an industry that normally employs 230,000 people.
But she said she was well aware the border closures – which have been attacked by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian – were causing significant economic pain for tourism operators along the Queensland coast.
"Of course it weighs on my mind," Ms Jones said in an interview with The Australian Financial Review.
"But Victoria and NSW still have hundreds of cases where community transmission is happening and they don't know who's got it and how they got it. It's still a real threat.
"We know businesses are hurting and it's frustrating. It's a balancing act between that [health] risk and ensuring we have a safe pathway and economic viability as well here in Queensland."
Despite the death of the Blackwater man, Queensland only has seven active coronavirus cases out of a population of more than 5 million people.
Tourism operators, especially in geographically distant places such as North Queensland, have been fuming at Queensland's hardline stance on border closures.
They accused the Premier of backtracking on the proposed July 10 easing of border controls being pushed back to September, until NSW and Victoria had no cases of community transmission.
The tourism operators had been hoping for interstate tourists for the July school holidays to help make up for the lack of international tourists for the forseeable future. They estimate they are losing more than $2 billion per month.
Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner told AFR Weekend he believed the border closure was part of a political ploy by the Palaszczuk Labor government to win the October state election.
Ms Jones – who has been Tourism Minister for the past 5½ years – rejected Mr Turner's comments. She said other tourism operators, such as Sea World, were backing the borders closure, saying they didn't want ad hoc shutdowns if there were coronavirus outbreaks down the track.
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has also backed the tough border stance saying “it was a huge price to pay to make sure that we get down to a COVID-free state but we really do not have a choice".
The Palaszczuk government has committed $50 million to help promote the state's tourism industry after COVID-19, as well as a $100 million small business fund.
Ms Palaszczuk on Sunday will outline the easing of restrictions for stage two, which are expected to allow Queenslanders to travel further distances within Queensland.
"If we are able to bring forward the opening up of Queensland to Queenslanders the Premier said she would consider that," Ms Jones said.
A decision on the state border reopening is reviewed monthly.
Ms Jones admitted the views of Queenslanders on border closures were divided, but said the latest death would "rock people" who thought the coronavirus was on the way out in the Sunshine State.
She said Queensland had been picked on over its border closures by the NSW Liberal government and federal Coalition government saying all states apart from NSW and Victoria still had their borders closed.
"I would be deeply concerned if it was a politically motivated attack," she said.
"The last time I looked ScoMo [Prime Minister Scott Morrison] had an additional $60 billion [from the JobKeeper scheme] he didn't know he had. There's nothing to stop him from providing additional support."