NSW changes "unfathomable": Cross Border Commissioner

Victoria's Cross Border Commissioner baffled by new NSW coronavirus rules

BORDER FRUSTRATION: Jason and Cathryn Singe, Yeramba Pastoral Company, have a property in Henty in NSW, where they live, and another property 100km away at Tallangatta, Victoria.

BORDER FRUSTRATION: Jason and Cathryn Singe, Yeramba Pastoral Company, have a property in Henty in NSW, where they live, and another property 100km away at Tallangatta, Victoria.


COVID-19 border restrictions "unfathomable".


Victoria's Cross Border Commissioner Luke Wilson says new coronavirus rules, imposed on the state's farmers wanting to gain access to their NSW properties, are "unfathomable."

Currently, eligible critical service workers employed, or living, in a non-border region must enter NSW by flying to Sydney Airport, even if they are travelling a relatively short distance.

That includes Victorian farmers, seeking to travel to NSW properties.

"It's not just about production losses, there are animal welfare issues that have apparently not been considered,' Mr Wilson said.

"it's kind of strange asking people from rural locations to travel to Melbourne, then jump on a plane to travel from Melbourne to Sydney

"Why on earth they think this is a clever idea, is mystifying.

"It cuts people off from their properties, particularly at this time, with lambing coming up, calving going on and crops that need inputs - it's quite a critical period in agriculture."

Federal Agriculture minister David Littleproud has urged state premiers to act on what he says are serious cross border issues, that, if unaddressed, could have an impact on the cost of groceries, animal welfare and critical human health.

"The arbitrary closure of state borders have had serious unintended consequences not only on agricultural supply chains but also regional Australians wellbeing," Mr Littleproud said.

"Hard closures are stopping the flow of silage contractors and grain harvesters between Queensland and NSW, Queensland veterinarians and agronomists are also unable to visit clients in Northern NSW, and there are numerous human health impacts impacting on residents who rely on GPs, specialists and allied health care across state borders.

"In one case, a Victorian pastoralist is unable to get to Broken Hill to feed and water her 500 cattle."

In Corowa, a number of Victorian-based management and staff of a 5000 head dairy are preventedfrom crossing the border, putting at risk the health and welfare of animals, Mr Littleproud said.

"Cancer patients in Tenterfield are unable to access treatment in Queensland, and a heavily pregnant woman in Moree has also been declined a permit to visit Toowoomba to visit her obstetrician.

"These are just some of the many examples of the devastating impacts these hard borders are having on rural families and communities.

"State health officials need to engage specifically with regional communities and industries at the direction of the premiers to identify workable solutions that keep supply chains open while keeping Australians safe rather than arbitrary broad reaching decisions.

He said keeping all agricultural supply chains secure is absolutely critical to ensuring supermarket prices for fresh products remained affordable for Australians while maintaining some of the best animal welfare standards in the world.

"Our farmers must be able to continue their important work and regional economies that pose little to no COVID-19 risk must be allowed to continue operating. They deserve our full and unwavering support," Mr Littleproud said.

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Mr Wilson said the NSW and South Australian governments should have consulted more closely, particularly with border councils, before imposing the strict movement restrictions.

"It's been pointed out throughout this period, particularly by local government, if only SA and NSW would consult with border councils, you could still have restrictions but with a bit more common sense to them," Mr Wilson said.

Border restrictions should reflect the realities, on the ground.

"It's about the way you do it, and also the degree to which it is done, so there is a bit of notice, when there are changes" he said.

Victorians living just across the SA border, near towns like Kaniva, have been told only essential travellers can enter the state, from August 21.

Anyone crossing the Victorian-NSW border, without a valid permit, will be placed into hotel quarantine for 14 days and be required to cover the $3,000 cost.

Border frustrations

Jason and Cathryn Singe, Yeramba Pastoral Company, have a property in Henty in NSW, where they live, and another property 100km away at Tallangatta, Victoria.

Tallangatta falls within the border zone but Henty does not

If they went to check on their cows at Tallangatta, which have just started calving, they would need to return home via Sydney Airport.

"Normally I'm a pretty placid sort of bloke but it's wearing really thin," Mr Singe said.

"I've got a permit sitting on the dining room table at the moment but if I used it I would have to drive down to Tallangatta, check my stock, drive to Melbourne airport, leave my ute somewhere in Melbourne, quarantine for two weeks in Sydney and then find my way back here.

"I think that would be about a $5000 process."

The process could put Mr Singe at more risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 than if he left his property in Henty, drove to the farm and returned without coming into contact with anyone.

"I would be happy to self-isolate at home when I returned and keep a log-book showing where I had been," he said.

Mr Singe had a neighbour check on their 110 Santa Angus cows and heifers at Tallangatta and heard there were already four to five calves on the ground.

"I've also got heifers entered in a sale in two weeks and I don't know if I can get down to load them and I don't even know how much feed they have," he said.

Mrs Singe said Service NSW had told her to lodge an appeal but after being passed up three levels of administration she was told there actually was no appeal process.

Border bubble

Ken Hopley, Bendigo, said he had cattle at Tennyson, and Bunnaloo, NSW, but couldn't get across the border.

"I have about 100 head of cattle, at Bunnaloo, with 20 heifers on the pint of calving and more cattle to go from Tennyson up there, in the next month," Mr Hopley said.

He said he had applied for his third travel permit, after being approved for the first two.

"It wouldn't let us complete it, because we are outside the bubble," he said.

"I was up there two weeks ago, it's absolutely ridiculous."

Mr Hopley said he had his own transport, but both he and his driver would need a special permit.

Although Bendigo had seen an increase in coronavirus cases, Mr Hopley said he didn't understand the restrictions.

"That's totally separate to breeding cattle - at any other time, if there was a problem, the authorities would come out of the woodwork, and tell you weren't doing the right thing.

"They are wanting to put animal welfare, by the wayside."

He said a special permit should be issued for the many farmers, in his situation.

"I've been at Bunnallo for at least 25 years, and I'd like to think I was part of the community."

Josh Buerckner, Tungamah agronomist, said he had clients, outside the bubble, on the NSW side of the border.

"Freight is fine, by the sound of it, but we have some big decisions being made on fungicide, for canola and cereals, in the next few weeks," Mr Buerckner said..

He'd been told he has to fly to Sydney, isolate for two weeks, then drive out to the property.

"It just needs to be sorted, as it changes every day."

SA changes

Mr Wilson said there was still a lot of information to come out, after the SA government's announcement.

"On the face of it, it appears the cross-border community provisions will disappear," Mr Wilson said.

He was waiting for the new public health direction to be issued.

'There is a week's grace around that change," he said.

"But we do need to get our eyes on the actual public health declaration

"Until you see the real thing, you are never quite sure what the dimensions are."

It appeared access to the movement permit would "evaporate."

"Depending on where you are it has significant implications as to where you go to get food, fuel, health care and possible education," Mr Wilson said.

Many border communities, like Edenhope and Naracoorte, were "paired," he said.

"Once we see the actual order, and know what we are dealing with, we have to map out what those impacts are and if there is any supports that might be required, depending on what people are cut off from, as a result of the changes."

He said he wasn't surprised to see further changes to border restrictions.

"Unlike in SA, which has at least given notice, NSW announced the changes at midnight, with almost no notice, so we found some people were caught out."

Special permits

And Victorian opposition Agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh has called for special agriculture permits to be offered to streamline interstate travel.

Strict border closures along Victoria's borders with New South Wales and South Australia are fuelling fears of cost increases and food shortages if supply chain issues across state borders aren't fixed.,' Mr Walsh said.

Farmers and harvest contractors were facing massive barriers accessing NSW at harvest time due to restrictions forcing travel via Sydney airport.

"Victorian border communities are riding a rollercoaster of tightening restrictions that are making it impossible to access farms, education, hospitals and essential products and services," Mr Walsh said.

"The uncertainty has pushed tensions high and left families and businesses along the border at their wits' end trying to keep up."

The agriculture sector is pushing for special permits to streamline access for farmers and the agriculture supply chain.

"If Victorian farmers and contractors who migrate north each year for NSW harvest can't get exemptions to travel interstate - without going via Sydney - NSW farmers will be strapped for resources to get harvest off in time," Mr Walsh said.

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