Fresh scrutiny of WA hard border stance

Western Australia’s hard border stance is set to face further scrutiny after the state’s chief health officer contradicted claims by the premier.

In evidence before a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, Andy Robertson said he was open to considering travel bubbles with other jurisdictions that had also gone at least 28 days without community spread.

All states and territories besides NSW and Victoria had met that benchmark, he told state parliament’s Education and Health Standing Committee.

Dr Robertson also said he was generally satisfied with other states’ border controls, adding that many had duplicated those of WA.

Premier Mark McGowan has previously claimed other states’ borders are “not as strong as ours” and that Dr Robertson had expressed concern about their arrangements, a claim he repeated in parliament hours after the committee hearing.

The premier has consistently stated that an “all-or-nothing” hard border approach is the only way to prevent further outbreaks in WA.

He has also insisted the health advice has been the only factor keeping the borders closed.

In his evidence to the committee, Dr Robertson conceded there may be other elements in play besides the health advice.

Opposition health spokesman Zak Kirkup said the premier had been “caught out”.

“It’s been made abundantly clear that the border arrangements that are put in place in Western Australia haven’t been based on the health advice but have in fact been a political decision that’s been made by the premier and the government,” he said.

The premier remained defiant.

“Once again the Liberal Party is undermining the efforts of this government to protect the health of West Australians,” he told parliament.

With people in NSW free to enter lower-risk states such as South Australia, Dr Robertson said he remained concerned about WA’s susceptibility to the virus because restrictions on physical distancing had largely been removed.

“I think it is a tightrope that we’re walking,” he said.

“Obviously as other jurisdictions have got (outbreaks) under control, there’s a lot less cases, the risk has substantially decreased.

“We need to have a better understanding of where the epidemiology is going in NSW and Victoria, whether it continues to fall.”

He also declared it was achievable for all states and territories to achieve 28 days with no community spread by Christmas.

WA Health meanwhile confirmed the infected Vega Dream iron ore carrier had set sail to the Philippines on Wednesday night from its anchorage off Port Hedland.

Seven crew tested positive after the ship arrived from Manila, one of whom was transferred to hotel quarantine in Perth.

WA Health said it had offered assistance to six COVID-19 positive crew aboard but with medical intervention not required, the offer was declined.

The ship was cleared to depart by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

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