The Northern Territory opposition has accused the government of keeping Territorians in the dark over border settings after announcing a significant policy change in a statement late Friday afternoon.
- The NT government says the rule change will free up more resources that can be channeled to where they are needed most
- The opposition is asking the government to release more information about the change
- It comes as the opposition is seeking more transparency around the health advice used by the government to support its COVID-19 policies
The statement, released around 4:30pm Friday, revealed that border entry forms for people arriving in the NT had been scrapped.
The Chief Minister’s Office later confirmed that all restrictions on people arriving in the NT had been lifted, meaning unvaccinated people can travel freely to the NT after being banned with limited exceptions last November.
No one in the government has explained to the media the reason for the change, and opposition health spokesman Bill Yan said on Friday the opposition Country Liberal Party only found out about it through the media.
“You would think that the health secretary would turn to me, the shadow health secretary, and say, ‘Hey, we’re making some policy changes and these are the reasons for that,'” he said.
“I might be able to support these decisions if they were actually explained to me, but we, the opposition, are finding out at the same time as everyone else.
“But they prefer to hide in their offices.”
A week of parliamentary sessions followed, during which the government tried to downplay accusations by the opposition that it had not been transparent with the health advice underpinning its coronavirus policy.
In a written response to the ABC’s questions on Saturday, the government said the change was being helped by high vaccination rates in the NT.
“Omicron is now widely deployed in the Northern Territory and we need to ensure that health and police resources are properly directed to the areas of greatest need,” said a spokesman for Mr Gunner.
“The COVID-19 risk from interstate arrivals no longer outweighs the territory COVID-19 risk and this means it is no longer appropriate to direct significant resources to monitor arrivals.
“Friday’s decision puts us in line with every mainland jurisdiction outside of WA.”
The opposition has asked the government to release more information.
“I may understand why they abolished these controls upon our border entry, but this may not be the time when we are doing our best to protect vulnerable Territorians in our communities,” Mr. Yan said.
He said the policy change could undermine the Gunner administration’s vaccination mandates, which apply to most of the territory’s workers.
Under the latest mandate, workers in high-risk workplaces such as hospitals, aged care facilities, homes for the disabled, correctional and detention facilities and shelters must receive their booster shots by March 11, or within four weeks of being eligible.
Remaining workers in public-facing roles must receive their booster shots by April 22.
“Does this mean that unvaccinated visitors to the NT will have more freedom than our vaccinated Territorians, who need the vaccination just to keep their jobs?” asked Mr. Yan.
There have been more than 100 patients with COVID in hospitals across the NT for several weeks, and Darwin and Palmerston Public Hospitals issued a Code Yellow response (now lifted) on Wednesday to deal with the overcrowding.
A vaccination card system that denies unvaccinated individuals access to a variety of dining and entertainment venues remains in place, as does a vaccination mandate that covers the vast majority of the local workforce.