Business backlash as SA state of emergency extended

EXCLUSIVE | South Australia’s state of emergency declaration will be extended for at least a further month, InDaily can reveal – prompting a backlash from one of the state’s most prominent business figures, who says the Marshall Government needs to take control of reopening the economy.

May 28, 2020, updated May 28, 2020
State Emergency Coordinator Grant Stevens and Premier Steven Marshall. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

State Emergency Coordinator Grant Stevens and Premier Steven Marshall. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A Major Emergency Declaration was first made on March 22, ceding authority to Police Commissioner Grant Stevens as state emergency co-ordinator “to manage and co-ordinate response and recovery operations”.

The declaration has been further extended until the end of May 30 – but the Marshall Government and SAPOL today confirmed cabinet had sent a request to Governor Hieu Van Le for a further 28 day extension.

This is likely to see Premier Steven Marshall continue to cede decision-making authority on the state’s pandemic response to Stevens and Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier, who sit on the powerful Transmission Committee established to oversee the reopening of the state’s economy.

But prominent businessman Bruce Carter – who formerly chaired the state’s economic development board and currently oversees the ASC board – told InDaily extending the emergency provisions was a “concern”.

“The state has done a wonderful job of controlling the spread of the virus – as has the country – however there’s a time that the running of the state should revert to those who were elected to do the same,” he said.

“Therefore the extension of the state controller’s oversight for a further 28 days is a concern.

“We need to get this state back operating.”

A former partner at Ernst & Young, Carter has long been one of the state’s most prominent businessmen, having advised successive governments and chaired various other key boards including WorkCover and SA Motor Sport.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday joined SA senator Simon Birmingham in questioning the continued need for border controls, saying the measure was not good for the economy and challenging various state governments to justify keeping their borders closed.

“The expert medical advice at a national level never recommended internal borders within Australia and it’s not good for the economy, particularly as we go into this next school holiday season,” he told Sky News.

“Tourism businesses need that support… so those individual states, they’ll have to justify those decisions themselves because it wasn’t something that came out of national cabinet.”

Carter concurred, saying: “As the Prime Minister and senator Birmingham said yesterday, we need to reopen the borders – and we need to start mitigating the continuing damage that these restrictions are causing.”

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While he said it was “necessary to restrict and control the virus”, SA’s one active case – which has now been linked to an SA Health administrative bungle – means we are now “in an environment where that success should now be used a base to underpin the recovery”.

“And that can only be done by those elected to do the same,” he said.

He said opening the borders would accelerate the “recovery process”, and would mean other “enjoyable aspects of SA life” would return more quickly, citing the inability of the state’s two AFL teams to remain in the state once the season recommences next month.

“It would also be an opportunity for interstate tourism to come here, particularly with Queensland closed,” he said.

“It would be a wonderful kick for SA – and we need it.”

Premier Steven Marshall last week was coy about the impending extension of the emergency declaration, saying “my understanding is there’s a period of time for that declaration, and that’s something that’s considered taking account all the issues associated with it”.

He said an emergency COVID-19 measures bill that was rushed through parliament last month contains several provisions “that hinge on the emergency declaration remaining in place”.

“I can’t imagine it will go on indefinitely, but there’s no plans to change that imminently,” he said of the state of emergency.

Several business insiders have privately expressed concern about the ongoing emergency provisions and a lack of clarity in the staged reopening of SA businesses, warning the goodwill engendered by the state’s success in limiting coronavirus cases would collapse if the economy could not be kickstarted quickly – with border restrictions a particular concern.

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