Australia

‘Everyone’s confused and shocked’: Questions over permit system as border towns navigate Victoria-NSW border closure

Leaders in the towns near the Victoria-NSW border are shocked and angry at the disruption the sudden closure of the border will cause to their communities.

Police and the army will patrol many of the 55 border crossings, while drones and aerial surveillance will be used to stop people swimming across rivers or trekking through bushland.

The border, including 33 bridges and two waterway crossings, will close at midnight Tuesday after Victoria’s status as Australia’s coronavirus epicentre reached record levels with 127 new cases on Monday.

Northern Victoria MP Tim Quilty said he and his community, which includes the border towns Wodonga and Mildura, were “shocked and appalled” by the decision.

“Everyone’s confused and shocked, outraged. The phone’s been ringing, everyone’s saying the same thing, (they’re) worried and confused about if they live in Albury and work in Wodonga,” Mr Quilty told AAP on Monday.

A permit system is expected to allow locals to cross the border for work and health services, but Mr Quilty said he didn’t see it going ahead seamlessly and was worried about punishments for those who cross without a permit.

The permit system will be coordinated by Service NSW and is expected to be established in a few days.

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“It doesn’t make economic sense, it doesn’t make virus sense. There hasn’t been a case in regional Victoria for three months now,” Mr Quilty said.

“For months now I’ve been calling the restrictions in the regions to be different to Melbourne because we’re in different situations.”

NSW had been the last state to allow an open border with Victoria, but that changed on Monday when Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian agreed to the border being shut.

Albury City Mayor Kevin Mack feels as though the border communities were being penalised despite recording no recent cases.

“It’s just unfortunate that five per cent of Melbourne population mean the whole states of NSW and Victoria are being penalised,” Mr Mack said.

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“I don’t think people understand border communities. We’ve got kids going to schools on both side of the border and people travelling across for health services every day.

“People aren’t as worried about the pandemic, they’re worried about their day- to-day existence and how that’s going to be impacted.”

Mr Mack called on the NSW government to provide more details, particularly around the permit process.

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Mildura MP Ali Cupper said it was disappointing the NSW government had not ensured the permit process was organised before the closure.

“It is imperative the NSW and Victorian governments ensure as soon as possible that unrestricted access will be granted for our communities,” Ms Cupper said in a statement on Monday.

“I have also implored Premier Berejiklian and her government to ensure the border closure only remains in place for the shortest possible time.”

Mildura Rural City Council Mayor Simon Clemence noted there was frustration within his rural community as people longed for the freedom that was experienced before the pandemic.

He said the rural city had been in talks with South Australia about creating a travel bubble but this seemed unlikely now.

“Most of western Victoria has no COVID but as things ramp up and get worse from a virus perspective we have to review our thinking,” Mr Clemence said.

The freight transport industry will be excluded from the closure as it is considered an essential service.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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The federal government’s coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone’s app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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