The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, says blatant, long-term contempt for regional Victoria in general, and our cross-border communities in particular, is fast approaching the point of no return.
Mr Walsh said thousands of people, businesses and jobs have again been trapped in a straitjacket for no reason other than political one-upmanship. But the game is being played with human lives and the collateral damage is becoming irreversible.
He said our cross-border communities aren’t just dying – they’re being murdered.
“I now have callers, and visitors, proud, independent and hardworking men and women breaking down in tears because the Andrews Labor Government has finally broken them,” Mr Walsh added.
“At midnight last Tuesday; that government introduced a series of restrictive protocols for people in twin towns the length of the Murray; which have effectively cut these communities in two,” he said.
“Just 48 hours later the whole state was thrust into another lockdown by the Premier who last year said he would not bounce Victoria in and out of lockdowns. Then came up with the most feeble of excuses to make sure regional Victoria didn’t escape – there had been traces found in Wangaratta water treatment plants. Except there weren’t. But by the time the truth was released the next day it was too late.
“Many cross-border people barely made it through Lockdown V. Were left reeling by Lockdown Lite
“Businesses turning to my office in despair have spent the past few days doing nothing but taking cancellations. One major venue reported getting wedding cancellations as far out as November and December because no-one wants to take the risk.”
Mr Walsh said the new protocols – and the latest changes – are not only paralysing those twin towns, they have also cut them off from Melbourne; and Melbourne, not Sydney, is their financial lifeblood.
He said the goalposts have been moving so fast all it has achieved is total confusion. Families cannot come home, families cannot visit. You can go from, for example, Echuca to Moama and play golf with your mother, father and sister but you cannot go and visit them in their home.
“I am getting non-stop calls and messages from people who have been on caravan and camping holidays in remote area of NSW and Queensland who have got back to civilisation to find they cannot come home,” Mr Walsh said.
But it is the people who have lost hope, who have mentally and emotionally surrendered; who are breaking my heart,” he said.
“I have heard from church leaders, from care agencies and from medical professionals.
“As one wrote to me last week: ‘I am deeply concerned about the accelerated mental health crisis that is happening around us. While nearly everyone in Victoria is fatigued with the happenings of the last 18 odd months, living in a border community that has to equally worry about the happening of two states (due to the constant threat of border closures) is beyond tiring.
‘Prior to the beginning of the pandemic we employed a community chaplain to provide free counselling to the community in an attempt to deal with the barriers that comes with accessing mental health support such as long wait times and expenses. Over this last period, specifically with the up and downs of restrictions (that are escalated by being a border community) we’ve noticed a concerning increase in mental health both in our congregation as well as the broader community’.
“By and large, as Victorians and as Australians, our communities have gone quietly into the pandemic night; unquestioningly surrendering our rights, one after the other,” he explained.
“Where we can go, when we can go. Who we can see and who we can’t. When we can work and when we can’t. When we can protest and when we can’t.
“The border bubble has been pushed to the brink of the abyss; and our ability to answer back; to question and to demand change; has been eroded by a government that has superseded Parliament and is ruling by decree.
“Be warned. The minute no-one protests a protestor’s loss of that right; we have all taken a potentially irreversible step down a very slippery political slope.
“A step that would bring a satanic smile to the face of any dictator.”