After Queensland’s Labor Party shared a message this month that the state could be “flooded with Victorians” if it opened its borders, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro suggested on Monday that NSW could step in to host the Melbourne Cup and AFL grand final.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was quick to bat away Mr Barilaro’s proposal.
“How very kind of him,” the Premier quipped, adding: “I haven’t got time for those really silly games, and that’s what they are.”
Following the closure of the NSW border last week, every state and territory has blocked the entry of Victorians.
While the Northern Territory insists any Victorian who arrives must foot the $2500 bill for their compulsory quarantine, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory won’t let them in at all, except for limited compassionate reasons or if they are granted exemptions for a handful of essential services jobs.
Victoria has recorded 1333 of Australia’s 1423 new coronavirus cases over the past week, or about 93 per cent.
As the state continues to battle outbreaks, with 177 new cases recorded on Monday, former Labor premier Steve Bracks called on Australians to heed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s message that “we are all Melburnians now”.
“I’m very concerned by the anti-Victorian sentiment coming through across the nation, people almost saying, ‘Well you deserve it in Victoria; we don’t want you here,’ ” said Mr Bracks, who won three elections between 1999 and 2006 before retiring from politics in 2007.
“I think that’s really contrary to what Scott Morrison has pitched. We’ve got to fight this. We don’t want to see US-style division where some states and areas are blamed without really recognising that this could happen anywhere. I think that call needs to be reinforced across Australia.”
Jeff Kennett, who preceded Mr Bracks, compared the anti-Victorian sentiment to when he became premier in 1992 as Australians “laughed at and ridiculed Victoria because of the economic condition we found ourselves in”.
“I hear what people are saying around the country now and I say to them, ‘There but for the grace of God go you,’ because this virus could spread anywhere over time,” the former Liberal premier said.
“But I’m thinking about the future. I would love nothing better than to see Victoria rise from these challenges, as we did before, to give those states that ridiculed Victoria the two-finger salute and prove we can become an exciting destination for all Australians.”
Former Labor premier John Brumby pointed to emerging outbreaks in NSW, where 10 cases of community transmission were reported and a cluster linked to a pub in Sydney’s south-west grew to 21 on Monday, as evidence of how quickly Australia’s coronavirus situation can shift.
“Australia’s effort in tackling coronavirus has been among the very best in the world,” said Mr Brumby, premier from 2007 to 2010.
“Our success going forward will be measured by our continuing capacity to work together. Parochialism and chest-beating won’t stop the virus and certainly won’t help national economic recovery.”
However, Denis Napthine, who preceded Daniel Andrews as premier, said the recent anti-Victorian sentiment was “self-inflicted”.
“I don’t blame the other states for saying this is Victoria’s fault and Victoria is dragging the other states down,” the former Liberal premier said.
Mr Napthine, premier from March 2013 to November 2014, accused the Andrews government of mismanaging the crisis.
“Sydney has had a lot more overseas returnees than Melbourne and haven’t had this problem,” he said.
Former Liberal premier Ted Baillieu, who held the post from November 2010 until March 2013, said recent anti-Victorian sentiment had roots in old rivalries.
“I think there’s this quirky, somewhat affectionate but entrenched view that it’s OK to ‘kick a Vic’ and they’re not going to give you trouble for doing it,” he said.
But Mr Baillieu stressed the situation was serious in Victoria and said the Prime Minister was right in saying “we are all Melburnians now”.
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Mr Kennett said Victoria’s leadership must show “excitement, confidence and challenge” to reinstate Victoria as Australia’s fastest growing state in the coronavirus recovery.
“The great risk is a lot of young people, in particular those employed in hospitality and tourism, will seek employment elsewhere and that will have a compounding effect,” he said.
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.
Benjamin is The Age’s regional editor. He was previously state rounds reporter and has also covered education for The Age.