A tale of two countries

05 February 2022

This opinion article by Business Council president Tim Reed was first published in the West Australian on Saturday 5 February 2022.

For the last two years Australians have overwhelmingly done the right thing to manage the pandemic.

We followed the health advice, lived with oppressive restrictions that separated families and friends, and got vaccinated in record numbers – all to keep people safe and let our health systems prepare.

Now, as those on the east coast reconnect with family and friends and reopen to the world, those in the West are set to remain indefinitely isolated.

This is a tale of two countries.

One is learning to live with a virus that is shifting from pandemic to endemic in every nation in the world, and the other is simply delaying the inevitable.

Shifting gears to live with COVID hasn’t been without its challenges but despite higher case numbers, vaccines, along with a less virulent variant, are reducing severe illness.

In return for managing these unavoidable challenges, those of us in Melbourne and Sydney are getting the chance to reunite with our friends and families; after a dip the economy is also bouncing back. Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory have all opened their borders and are forging ahead too.

We’re shopping, eating at local restaurants and cafes, attending festivals and the Australian Open – all while creating new jobs and making investment decisions to get economy transforming projects off the ground. We’re living our lives while taking common sense precautions to manage the virus. We are not in lockdown.

While we’re embracing this new phase of the pandemic, Western Australia is falling behind the rest of the country.

Businesses can’t plan for the future and families remain divided.

Western Australia has managed the last two years exceptionally well by maintaining a strong economy and building a surplus that can be invested to strengthen your health system.

But indefinite border closures risk undermining your success.

Just like the Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles, national businesses operating from Western Australia are considering their place in the state, what projects they’ll start, where they’ll hire their people and where they’ll be based in the future.

By staying shuttered from the world, the West is sending the message to the other states and to the world that it is closed for business.

Airlines can’t plan international routes through Perth if travellers and staff can’t move through the state and projects with decades long investment horizons don’t stack up without access to skills and certainty.

Every day Australia remains a collection of divided states is one that damages our reputation as a good place to invest and create jobs.

And every day the West remains cut off from the rest of the nation is one that risks seeing good jobs flow from the west to the east.  

Re-joining the rest of the country will help position WA for the future and it will make our whole nation stronger.

This doesn’t mean throwing open the doors and letting it rip. It means careful planning to keep people safe and a gradual ratcheting down of restrictions.

If Queensland and Tasmania can take health advice, plan and prepare in response, and give their citizens the chance to travel, why can’t Western Australia?

The Premier has said he will reconsider the current restrictions in February, we the business community support this immediate review.  At a minimum, the government could start by reducing quarantine requirements from 14 to seven days and put in place exemptions for desperately needed critical workers.

This would begin to ease the skills challenges already putting a handbrake on the state economy.

Critically, the government could send a clear signal to businesses who want to invest by setting a date to reopen and sticking to it.

Western Australians – just like the rest of us around the country – did their best to keep people safe and do their bit through the pandemic.

They didn’t sign up to be closed off from the world forever.

Tim Reed is the President of the Business Council of Australia.


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