The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, has condemned the blinkered view of the Victorian government over the economic damage it has inflicted on river communities.
Mr Walsh said despite lessons that should have been learnt from previous COVID closures and their impact on the river’s twin towns, “once again local economies have been blithely thrown under the bus”.
He said when the Andrews government invoked its snap decision to close the borders on New Year’s Eve it immediately devastated the most important part of the tourism season for twin towns from one end of the Murray to the other.
“You could walk down the streets of Echuca or Koondrook or Swan Hill and see them full of happy holidaymakers; cafes going flat out and shops full,” Mr Walsh said.
“But cross the river to Moama, or Barham, or Tooleybuc, for example, and you would think you were in a ghost town,” he said.
“The only thing missing in Moama’s main street when I was there the other day was the tumbleweeds. Tooleybuc’s and Barham’s smaller but equally important, accommodation and hospitality industries now lie in ruins.”
Mr Walsh also suggested a combination of petty politics and poor policy was exacerbating the situation.
He said just in Echuca the small army of police required to provide around the clock rosters is now being mostly accommodated in Bendigo.
“There are probably enough empty rooms in Moama, two minutes away not more than an hour, to house the whole Victorian police force – and help, in some small way, support the economy the Premier of Melbourne has just wrecked over a handful of COVID cases that were under control,” Mr Walsh added.
“I met last week with Victoria Police assistant commissioner Rick Nugent and raised the accommodation issue with him,” he said.
“And I was assured every attempt would be made to book locally.
“A/Comm Nugent said they always preferred staying locally because it cut down on time and transport costs,” he added.
“At the time I raised accommodation in the context of the twin towns, not just Echuca, because obviously it is the one community, something the government in Melbourne has still not grasped.
“My understanding is police were staying locally until forced out of the market by holiday bookings, that’s understandable – but it has been almost two weeks since the Andrews’ government’s border shutdown saw 60,000 Victorians flee NSW before being locked out of their own state.
“Surely that is more than enough time for someone to get the message the Moama half of the twin towns has been gutted by the closure and to start moving police over there for accommodation.
“A move that would go some small way towards helping an economy shattered by COVID chaos – and make no mistake, the whole community here, both sides of the river, will pay the price for that.”