Court upholds state border closings in Australia

(James Ross/AAP Images via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s highest court on Friday upheld the closure of a state’s border and dismissed billionaire businessman Clive Palmer’s argument that the pandemic measure was unconstitutional.

The seven High Court judges ruled that Western Australia’s state border closure to non-essential travel applied during “a hazard in the nature of a plague or epidemic” complied with the constitution. All Australian states and territories have used border restrictions to curb infections and a court ruling against Western Australia could have impacted their pandemic responses.

The state shut its border to the rest of Australia on April 5 and has not recorded any cases of COVID-19 community transmission since April 11.

Western Australia is to relax its border policy on Nov. 14 and allow residents from states and territories deemed low risk to enter without going into quarantine.

The state government argued the measure let its iron ore mines maintain their output and earn their highest prices in six years while their main rivals in Brazil have had production disrupted by pandemic absenteeism.

Palmer, a mining magnate, took court action in May when he was refused permission to enter the state. His lawyers argued that the border restriction unreasonably infringed upon Australians’ constitutional right to free travel between states.

Separately, an inquiry into quarantine troubles in Melbourne recommended that police guard the hotels where returning overseas travelers stay. The Victoria state government’s decision to use private security firms instead of police and the military to enforce quarantines in Melbourne hotels has been widely blamed for lax controls that led to a virus surge in Australia’s second-largest city. An inquiry into that quarantine program recommended in an interim report “a 24/7 police presence on-site at each quarantine facility.”


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