NT border confusion a ‘death knell’ for tourism, experts say



TERRITORIANS hoping to spend their Christmas holidays interstate have been asked to cancel their plans as Chief Minister Michael Gunner warns that more COVID-19 hot spots are likely to be declared before they're revoked.

Mr Gunner came under fire for confusing the public yesterday when he said the NT had "hard border controls", leading some to think borders had closed, which is not the case.

The NT's borders have remained open to most of Australia since July 17, excluding travellers from COVID-19 hot spots who still have to go into mandatory, supervised quarantine for 14 days.

Mr Gunner made the remarks during a national interview on ABC News Breakfast.

"We'll have our hard border controls in place for at least the next 18 months, and we are resourcing so we can do that," he said.

"We're much more likely to add (hot)spots than remove them.

"We have got an indefinite ban on Victoria, and Sydney keeps bubbling away to a point where I can't give you a date where that would ever lift.


Chief Minister Michael Gunner came under fire for causing “confusion” about the topic of NT’s border. Picture: Che Chorley
Chief Minister Michael Gunner came under fire for causing “confusion” about the topic of NT’s border. Picture: Che Chorley


"My advice to every Territorian, if you can, stay here in the Territory. If you can, cancel your Christmas holiday plans, stay here in the NT."

Health Minister Natasha Fyles was later forced to walk back his remarks and said the NT still welcomed travellers from across most of Australia, excluding those from hot spots.

NT Chamber of Commerce boss Greg Ireland said the Chief Minister needed to reassess his use of termin­ologies like "hard borders" to prevent any confusion that could potentially hurt tourism.

"Most people who do their research will know NT's borders are open aside from hot spots, but when you use language like that it can be confusing," he said.

Tourism lecturer David Beirman from Sydney's University of Technology said that signalling the NT could have hard borders for months on end was a "death knell" for tourism in the Territory.

"In signalling a virtual lockdown and hard borders for the NT for 18 months, the government is signalling the death knell for many of the NT's most lucrative tourism businesses and attractions, including Kakadu National Park, Uluru, the MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs and Darwin," Dr Beirman said.

"I fully respect the right of any Australian state or territory to do all they can to protect the health of its citizens.

"However, flagging the sentencing of Territorians to 18 months isolation from fellow Australians and the rest of the world is a step too far."

The NT's tourism industry is valued at $1.2bn, employing more than 8000 people across the sector.

Opposition leader Lia Fin­occhiaro said Mr Gunner's hard border remarks were "reckless" and "irresponsible".

"The fact that he is using ­irresponsible language, and sending mixed signals is reckless and a chief minister should know better," she said.

Mr Gunner has also brushed off calls to close NT's borders to NSW and declare the entire state a COVID-19 hot spot.

It comes after more than 20 new active cases were recorded in Sydney on Tuesday.

There was also another new case at a Batemans Bay school in Eurobodalla Shire, which is a NSW area the NT recently revoked as a hot spot.

"Sydney is the problem, that's why we are closed to Sydney," Mr Gunner said.

"We'll keep listening to the expert health advice."

Territory Alliance leader Terry Mills accused the Chief Minister of "playing games" with Territorian' lives and said he should be closing NT's border to NSW immediately.

"We need to be very clear, step up, and close the borders with NSW so that we have clarity and a coherent message from the chief minister, who was simply playing games of politicising this and confusing people," he said.

Originally published as NT border confusion a 'death knell' for tourism, experts say