Our Aussie leaders aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on how best to handle the pandemic – and it appears their constituents aren’t either.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and West Australian Premier Mark McGowan have repeatedly butted heads over how their respective state is keeping coronavirus at bay.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also occasionally joined the debate, while the other leaders have tended to keep to themselves.
But the leaders’ war of words hit fever pitch this week, when Mr McGowan blasted NSW’s approach as plain “wrong”.
NSW has always approached coronavirus with a suppression strategy, with the state pushing for a strong testing regime and contact tracing system, and imploring its residents to learn to live with the virus.
Western Australia, which has also fared incredibly well during the pandemic with its strong economy and isolation from the rest of the country, has instead opted for an elimination strategy, closing borders as soon as a handful of cases are detected in various states and territories.
The state has now gone nine months with no community transmission.
In a poll conducted by news.com.au, readers were asked to vote on the best way to deal with COVID-19.
Readers were asked if “robust contact tracing and living with the virus” was better when compared to “hard borders and short lockdowns for total elimination”.
At the time of writing, more than 60,000 people had voted in the poll over the past week, with the results split almost 50-50.
Around 54 per cent of Aussies believe the elimination strategy is the best approach to the pandemic, while 46 per cent voted for strong contact tracing and suppression.
Ms Berejiklian addressed the NSW criticism this morning, reaffirming the state’s “balanced strategy”.
“We want to make sure health and safety always comes first, but, of course, mental health, wellbeing, and keeping jobs in the economy moving forward are also really critical and it is this balanced strategy that will continue,” she added.
“I don’t mind what criticism we get from others, we feel very strongly that the New South Wales strategy to date has proven to be the best one for our citizens and we will continue on that path.”
The discovery of a number of mutant strains, including the variant found in the UK that’s been shown to be more than 70 per cent infectious than the original coronavirus, has triggered a strong reaction from Australia’s leaders.
The cap on returned travellers coming home to hotel quarantine will be slashed in half for the next month.
And, Queensland’s health authorities ordered an immediate three day lockdown of Greater Brisbane last week after a hotel cleaner was infected with the mutant strain.
The fears surrounding the mutated strain have only increased tensions among our state and territory leaders.
At a press conference earlier this week, Ms Berejiklian called on the nation’s leaders to “do better” when it came to border closures.
“As Premier of this state, I would love to have had input and say rather than closing all of New South Wales or Sydney from a particular state, please just consider the northern beaches or give us 24 hours to get back to you on how we can manage this,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“All I’m suggesting is as leaders, and again I include myself in this, all of us can and should do better when it comes to borders because it affects thousands of people, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people when multiple border changes are happening around the nation.”
Holding his press conference at the same time, Mr McGowan was asked how he might find common ground with NSW.
“There are five states and two territories doing one thing, and one state doing something different. I go with the majority,” Mr McGowan said.
“The states and territories that want to eliminate the virus, I think, have the right approach.
“The idea that you tick along with the virus and somehow that is a better model is wrong.
“And I just urge the New South Wales government and people in New South Wales to look outside of New South Wales of what other states and territories are doing in order to crush and kill the virus.
“That’s a better approach. The idea that somehow it’s better of the virus and then just manage it, I don’t think is the correct approach.”
While Ms Berejiklian didn’t directly respond to Mr McGowan’s comments on that day, her Deputy Premier John Barilaro did.
In an interview on 2GB Radio, Mr Barilaro called on the West Australian Premier to “stop lecturing us”.
“It is easy, he puts up the borders in WA, he cuts himself off from the rest of the nation, he called me un-Australian when I questioned him on his lecturing of New South Wales,” he said.
“I actually then returned fire but also gave a level of respect back saying, ‘it is your state, you make your decision’ but here he is again lecturing.
“I will tell you this, we have had COVID deaths in this nation but we will have more deaths from mental health and people locked away in isolation and not being able to reunite with family and Mark McGowan, that is what he stands for.
“I am happy to say that this morning and have a go straight back at him. Stop lecturing us and look after your own backyard.
“We are doing a great job on the eastern seaboard and why don‘t you become part of the rest of the country?”