Morrison drops Commonwealth involvement in Palmer’s ‘hard border’ legal fight

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dropped the Commonwealth's involvement in mining billionaire Clive Palmer's legal challenge to the constitutionality of Western Australia's strict border restrictions.

The federal government faced a significant public backlash in WA after it joined the High Court action and insisted the state's decision to implement a indiscriminate ban on any Australian entering the state was contrary to the constitution's requirement that movement across state borders be "absolutely free".



In a letter to WA Premier Mark McGowan, the Prime Minister said he had ordered the back down "having taken into account the changed state of the pandemic that has worsened since these matters were first brought to the High Court" and the high level of concern regarding public health in WA.

"I consider, on balance, that we must set aside the normal convention in these circumstances and not continue the Commonwealth’s participation in this case," he said.

Mr Morrison denied the federal government objected to the decision of WA to close its borders.

"Decisions taken early in the outbreak of the pandemic were made with the best intentions and in necessary haste," he said.

"At the time, when several states, including Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia, made these decisions the constitutionality of how these decisions were being made was not taken into account.

"I stress the Commonwealth raised no objections to these actions, however, did note the risk that constitutional issues would arise at a later time."

On Friday, Mr McGowan urged the Commonwealth to pull out of the High Court action.

"There's no need for them to be involved," he said.

"I mean, we're in a pandemic. Constitutional niceties I think should go out the window."

In his letter to the Premier, Mr Morrison said he was not requesting the WA government to change its current border settings, but work with the federal government to ensure the state's border restrictions were constitutional.

"While the administration of border arrangements can always be improved to avoid unintended consequences, making any substantive changes to these arrangements, especially now following the outbreak in Victoria, would give rise to significant and unnecessary public concern," he said.

The Coalition's WA ministers, including Attorney General Christian Porter defended the Comomnwealth's involvement in the case last week, but denied they were supporting Mr Palmer.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the state government should restore the rights of individuals to conduct business and engage freely with people in other parts of the country where there was no community transmission of the virus.

"Of course, we support strictly isolating COVID-19 problem areas like those in Victoria," he wrote in an editorial published by Seven West Media.

"Whether in WA or other parts of Australia, none of us would want people from areas experiencing an outbreak of community transmission to travel freely in our local areas.

"That is not a justification for indiscriminate state border closures towards all other jurisdictions."

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