Asia Today: Court upholds state border closings in Australia

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s highest court on Friday upheld a state’s border closure and dismissed billionaire businessman Clive Palmer’s argument that the pandemic measure was unconstitutional.

The seven High Court judges ruled that Western Australia’s state border closure to non-essential travel applied during “a hazard in the nature of a plague or epidemic” complied with the constitution. All Australian states and territories have used border restrictions to curb infections and a court ruling against Western Australia could have impacted their pandemic responses.

The state shut its border to the rest of Australia on April 5 and has maintained the travel restriction despite not recording a case of COVID-19 community transmission since April 11.

Western Australia will relax its border policy Nov. 14 and allow residents from states and territories deemed low risk to enter without going into quarantine.

The state government argued the measure let its iron ore mines maintain output and earn their highest prices in six years while their main rivals in Brazil have had production disrupted by pandemic absenteeism.

Palmer, a mining magnate, took court action in May when he was refused permission to enter the state. His lawyers had argued that the border restriction unreasonably infringed upon Australians’ constitutional right to free travel between states.

Separately, an inquiry into quarantine troubles in Melbourne has recommended that police guard the hotels where returning overseas travelers stay. The Victoria state government’s decision to use private security firms instead of police and the military to enforce quarantine in Melbourne hotels has been widely blamed for lax controls that led to a virus surge in Australia's second-largest city. An inquiry into that quarantine program recommended in an interim report “a 24/7 police presence on-site at each quarantine facility.”

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— The United Nations voted to hold a summit Dec. 3-4 to respond to the spread of the coronavirus and its “unprecedented” effects on societies, economies and trade. The General Assembly voted 150-0 on a resolution authorizing the meeting, though the United States, Israel and Armenia abstained. It will include prerecorded speeches and a presentation and discussion led by the World Health Organization chief. Assembly President Volkan Bozkir called the high-level special session “a historic moment and a test for multilateralism.”

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