Liberal senator Gerard Rennick has threatened to withhold his vote on critical legislation unless the Morrison government starts a high court battle over Queensland’s Covid border ban.
Rennick has asked the attorney general, Michaelia Cash, to challenge the state’s border closure, claiming 8,000 Queenslanders cannot return home and arguing the ban is no longer reasonable.
Rennick raised the issue in the Coalition party room on Tuesday, and in comments to Guardian Australia that the Morrison government needed to go to the high court “as a matter of urgency”.
The Queensland government has announced it will open the borders by removing the need to quarantine for fully vaccinated interstate travellers once the state hits its 80% vaccine milestone, expected to be by 17 December. Queensland residents require approval to return to their state.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has urged states to reopen once the 80% milestone is reached, although some states, such as Tasmania, have set a higher bar and others, such as Western Australia, are yet to announce their plan.
Cash and assistant attorney general Amanda Stoker have both publicly argued the Covid vaccine rollout means border bans are less likely to be reasonable than in 2020, when Clive Palmer lost a case to reopen the WA border.
In question time on Tuesday, Morrison welcomed the fact “Queensland borders will be coming down” praising the state government for “honouring the national plan”.
But Rennick said that “Queenslanders should be able to go home, subject to a negative Covid test”.
“The prime minister has elevated these premiers into positions of power, and now we effectively have become eight different totalitarian states” he told Guardian Australia.
“The prime minister has to be seen to be defending the constitution, which is what unites us all.”
Rennick said that while it “was not Scott’s fault” that Annastacia Palaszczuk had instituted the border restrictions, he said the prime minister “needs to fix it”.
He said that he would be prepared to withhold his vote in the Senate on critical legislation “until Morrison sorts it out”, but would not interfere with procedural motions.
“If that is what it takes, then yes,” Rennick said.
“The prime minister needs to get on the phone and tell the premiers to pull their heads in as they are out of control, and it is an overreach of their powers, and we need to go to the high court as a matter of urgency and clarify what it means to close the borders and the question of reasonableness.”
Rennick has been increasingly independent minded, voting against the government’s India travel ban and vowing to vote against Coalition bills on national cabinet and future fund secrecy.
In 2020 the Morrison government intervened in support of Palmer’s high court challenge but withdrew after criticism from WA premier, Mark McGowan.
Flight Centre chief executive, Graham Turner, said earlier in October his company was prepared to be the “lead challenger” in a high court case if premiers don’t release reasonable plans to reopen.
In a paper presented to the Samuel Griffith society, Stoker argued that “as more Australians become vaccinated, state border closures become less proportionate”, arguing it would be “hard to imagine” a court would uphold their validity.
Stoker said if states remained closed after the 80% vaccination threshold Australia would be “faced with the absurd prospect that some Australians will soon be able to travel from Sydney to London and Paris before they can go to Townsville and Cairns”.
Australia’s international border will reopen from 1 November.