By Rhiannon Shine
Western Australia’s hard border with the rest of Australia was justified to prevent a potentially catastrophic event, the High Court has found.
The High Court today released the reasons for its decision to allow the state’s hard border, which billionaire businessman Clive Palmer unsuccessfully claimed was “unconstitutional”, to continue.
The judgment stated there could be no doubt that a law restricting the movement of people into a state was a suitable way of preventing COVID-19 from entering a community.
The court accepted the Emergency Management Act empowered the state government to “direct or prohibit the movement of persons into an emergency area”, which allowed it to block people from entering the state.
If people entered WA whilst infectious, “there would be a high probability it would spread within the community and at least a moderate probability there would be uncontrolled outbreaks”.
“If there were uncontrolled outbreaks, the consequences would include the risk of death and hospitalisation, particularly for the vulnerable groups,” the judgment stated.
“In a worst-case scenario, the health consequences could be catastrophic.”
Mr Palmer was ordered to pay the state’s legal costs.
The WA Government took the unprecedented step of shutting the state off to the rest of Australia in March last year, to try to stop the spread of COVID-19 into the state.
The billionaire miner launched a High Court challenge against the border, after he was denied a travel exemption to enter the state.
The question put to the High Court was whether Western Australia’s Emergency Management Act and the direction to close the state’s border off to the rest of the country breached section 92 of the Constitution, which guarantees free movement between states.
The High Court ruled in November last year that the Act complied with the constitution and the directions did not raise a constitutional issue.
Mr Palmer’s team had argued entry could be allowed to persons from states where the disease was largely under control, but the court found a precautionary approach should be taken “because of the uncertainties about the level of risk and the severe, or even catastrophic outcomes which might result from community transmission.”
Mark McGowan happy with ruling
WA Premier Mark McGowan welcomed the High Court’s ruling.
“I am pleased that the High Court has recognised that Mr Palmer now needs to pay,” he said.
“That is a further vindication that we did the right thing at the height of the pandemic to protect the health and lives of West Australians.”
The border dispute was just one of several legal fights between Mr Palmer and the WA Government.
He also lodged an estimated $30 billion compensation claim over an iron-ore dispute dating back to 2012, which the WA government blocked with unprecedented legislation to terminate the claim.
This week Mr Palmer indicated that battle was not over, tweeting on Tuesday that he would continue to fight State Government’s legislation.
“Mark McGowan is busy bragging about how he has saved WA from going bankrupt,” Mr Palmer stated on Twitter.
“Instead all he has done is delay the inevitable and it will add hundreds of millions of dollars in more damages and interest to our claims.
“When the election has come and gone, he will face the music of our claim.”
Premier says fight will go on
Mr McGowan said the state would continue to fight Mr Palmer in the courts.
“While there’s breath in my body, I will fight Clive Palmer,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Mr Palmer also has a defamation case against the WA Premier after Mr McGowan referred to Mr Palmer as an enemy of the state of Western Australia and claimed he was trying to bankrupt the state.
Mark McGowan countered his claims with his own defamation action.
The bitter spat has continued to play out, with Mr Palmer regularly running ads in the state’s only newspaper criticising Mr McGowan and the Labor party.