Australia, Border Security and COVID-19

Published: Spring 2021    |    By:  Adèle Garnier  |    Volume 69, No.16



Comparatively, Australia has successfully responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Case numbers have remained low, efficient travel restrictions, quarantine, and contact tracing measures have been put in place. This essay will argue that Australia’s border security response to the pandemic has been shaped by the country’s characteristics as a federal settler state that is also an isolated island of the Southern hemisphere with a complex relationship to Asia.

As an isolated island, Australia has a long tradition of strict border and biosecurity control, including use of quarantine. Such measures were considered part of the national identity and racialized until the end of the ‘White Australia policy’. Strict border and epidemiological control have remained strongly legitimate to the public though family separations through travel restrictions as well as shaming of Asian communities seen as responsible for the pandemic have been criticized. Constitutionally, the federal level is responsible for border controls, yet states and territories play a significant role in implementation. Beyond the international headlines focusing on Australia’s pandemic response success, there has been tensions between the federal and the state level, as well as between states, regarding oversight over travellers’ entry control and interstate travel restrictions. Still, the pandemic has led to the reorganising of coordination mechanisms between federal and state levels.

About the Author

Dr. Adèle Garnier is an Assistant Professor at the Département de Géographie, Université Laval, Canada. She works on refugee and migration policy, particularly in Canada, Australia and Belgium. Her research investigates the interplay of regulatory levels (local to global) in migration and refugee policy in a comparative perspective. She holds a PhD in Politics from Macquarie University, Australia and the University of Leipzig, Germany. She has done postdoctoral research at the Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work (CRIMT), Université de Montréal, Canada and the Group for Research on Ethnic Relations, Migration and Equality (GERME), Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium and has been a lecturer/senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.