Australian PM pushes for internal borders to be reopened

SYDNEY, June 12 (Reuters) - Australia’s federal government stepped up pressure on state and territory leaders on Friday to reopen internal borders, a step viewed as key to reviving the country’s coronavirus-hit economy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the plea at a meeting of the national cabinet dealing with the crisis, two people with knowledge of the meeting said, just hours before protesters are expected to defy movement restrictions for a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney.

Morrison last month announced a three-step plan to remove the bulk of lockdown measures by July, which would allow for domestic travel. That is also a prerequisite for Australia’s planned “travel bubble” with neighbouring New Zealand.

But the implementation of the federal plan is down to the leaders of individual states and territories, who come from opposing political parties and disagree on how safe it is to lift restrictions.

“State borders should be open,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News on Friday, adding that a second wave of infections could cost the economy A$80 billion over the next two years. “Tourism operators in North Queensland would like to be able to draw on tourists in New South Wales.”

Australia’s pathway out of coronavirus lockdown measures has been complicated by rallies to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Morrison said this week that gatherings last weekend that attracted tens of thousands of people had already delayed the process.

The movement has refocused attention in Australia on the mistreatment of indigenous Australians, including Aboriginal deaths in custody.

A rally is scheduled to take place in Sydney later on Friday and more are planned around the country over the weekend. Organizers said they would push ahead with the unauthorised Sydney gathering despite warnings of on-the-spot fines and arrest.

Morrison drew criticism on Thursday for saying “there was no slavery in Australia” during a discussion of the early days of British settlement.

Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Jane Wardell