The absurdity of border protection

Closing borders never really works. The Great Wall of China eventually crumbled and in modern times there were always trickles through the Iron Curtain (incorporating the Berlin Wall) until the trickles became an outbreak.

the absurdity of border protection

Image courtesy of Alan Moir

And these were barriers ruthlessly enforced by totalitarian regimes – no exceptions, shoot to kill. The more porous land frontiers of Western Europe have only ever been temporarily effective, if at all.

So closing down Victoria, or any other Australian state, seems an exercise in futility. The distances involved are vast, the entry posts all but non-existent.

Even with the combined might of huge numbers of police, military, aviation and drones, obedience can only be established if the population co-operates. If not, those determined to find a way through will have no real difficulty in doing so.

The problem is partly historic: the lines were drawn by bored Whitehall civil servants half a world away, with no idea of what they were doing nor why. They saw a river: well that’s a good place to divide one colony from another, irrespective of demographic differences, which in those days were virtually non-existent in any case. Well, nominally New South Wales politicians were predominantly free traders, while the Victorians were protectionists, that was a good enough excuse to set up inter-colonial rivalry.

Even then it caused big problems: the rail gauges were not unified until more than a century later. And in the meantime, settlements grew into towns and towns into cities, stretching defiantly across the borders they were supposed to maintain.

Mildura is on both sides of the Murray; Albury-Wodonga is an equally homogenous conurbation. To pretend that they are somehow diverse populations is an affront to commonsense. And I know, because I live less than an hour’s drive from the Tweed, where Annastacia Palaszczuk has been trying to run an equally pointless exercise.

During the long and now renewed attempt to isolate Queensland, there were delays of more than five hours as motorists waited for their passes to be confirmed. Some ran out of petrol, almost all ran out of patience. And in the end almost everyone who wanted to get through did.

Like Albury-Wodonga, Coolangatta-Tweed Heads is basically the same city – in at least one way, it is even more so. A large scale map reveals that the state border runs straight through the middle of the Gold Coast airport. In fact it runs through the middle of the actual terminal: check-in is in Queensland while baggage collection is in New South Wales. Imagine the chaos if that ukase was taken seriously, especially during summer with the hour’s time difference due to daylight saving.

To save the sanity of both staff and passengers the facility has been designated entirely Queensland controlled. And the same measure needs to be implemented immediately on the Murray. Shift the border out of the suburbs – it doesn’t really matter whether north or south.

Of course it will still leak like a sieve anyway, but it will at least be a logical sort of sieve. And that, in these crazy times, is about the best we can hope for.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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