Op-Ed – Leader of The Nationals Peter Walsh
It’s ground hog day for Victoria’s border communities.
The Andrews Labor Government’s eleventh-hour border closures on New Year’s Eve again turned our world upside down.
It’s made access to health services and medical supplies, education and daily essentials that much more difficult for people living and working along the New South Wales and South Australian border.
But it’s the ongoing failure to resolve basic problems with the onerous permit system that’s cut some vulnerable Victorians off from the needs in daily life.
I met with a group of residents at Koondrook this week who have been all but barred from heading over the bridge to Barham – a stone’s throw away over the Murray River.
Their problem – they don’t have photo identification and so have been told by police at the checkpoints that if they make the five-minute trip they won’t be able to get home.
Some haven’t held a driver’s licence in 50 years.
Koondrook is the smaller of the twin towns, with the local medical centre, pharmacy and supermarket all located in Barham.
Those who don’t drive, like Koondrook resident Robert Cook who makes the journey across the bridge every day for milk and bread, have been left wondering how they will get the daily essentials they need to survive.
It’s a problem repeated along the length of the Victoria-New South Wales border.
Cross-border communities are suffering under a confusing and unworkable set of rules, despite the Andrews Labor Government having nearly a year now to get it right.
Daniel Andrews has callously ignored residents’ calls for change, when he should be working on a solution.
The community, with support of local Liberal Nationals members, are working to get the Victorian government to send a mobile photo van along the border towns to take photos and process ID cards on the spot.
This fast-track solution will take the pressure off vulnerable and elderly residents who have been told that there’s currently an up to six week wait for photo ID.
There are a lot of people the length of the Murray whose lives revolve around their whole border communities, not just the Victorian side, who have slipped through the cracks and this is a matter I hope the government will treat seriously and urgently.
It’s just one bungle in Labor’s shambolic border closure that left too many Victorians stranded interstate through no fault of their own.
And taken the axe to our tourism sector with a mass exodus leaving towns in regions along the Murray that have never had a COVID case as ghost towns.
The new permit system requires nearly all who arrive in Victoria as of 5.59pm on Monday 11 January to hold a permit or face a $5,000 fine.
It means each and every Victorian now requires the Andrews’ Labor Government’s permission to return home.
It’s an unnecessary overreach into the lives of Victorians.
It’s not the way to keep us safe or protect our freedom as Australians to travel in our own country.
Our local citizens shouldn’t need a visa just to get back home from a COVID-free part of Australia, but that’s exactly what the Andrews Labor Government has enforced.
And done a poor job of it.
There’s no detail on what might trigger a zone to change classification, risking stranding Victorian residents all over again with only a moment’s notice.
There’s no border bubble for communities on the South Australian border.
It’s time for common sense and consistency, not panicked announcements and bureaucratic bungles.
Victorians have the right to travel and the right to come home safely.
To solve the confusion and provide certainty for our communities, I’m calling for the National Cabinet to agree on a measured, consistent approach to dealing with outbreaks, instead of having every state go it alone and risking leaving their citizens stranded.
Or forced into 14 days quarantine when they return home, despite only having visited communities that are COVID free.
Daniel Andrews’ childish competition to outdo the other states with arbitrary border closures has to stop.
Without common sense, Labor’s city-centric decisions will continue to hack away at business confidence and the regional economies of our small country communities.
We need hope out of this crisis.
But that will only happen when Daniel Andrews learns from the damage inflicted by his Government’s mistakes.