Victoria cautious over border changes

Looser restrictions need to go further: VFF and Victorian government

Coronavirus
CAUTIOUS APPROACH: Both Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke and the state's Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes have welcomed the loosening of border restrictions, but say more needs to be done.

CAUTIOUS APPROACH: Both Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke and the state's Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes have welcomed the loosening of border restrictions, but say more needs to be done.

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Less than a week after it was scrapped, the SA-Vic border buffer zone is set to be reinstated.

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Victoria's Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes has cautiously welcomed the partial relaxation of stringent border restrictions, announced by both South Australia and NSW.

Less than a week after it was controversially scrapped, the SA-Victoria border buffer zone is set to be reinstated.

Premier Steven Marshall announced the zone - which stretches 40 kilometres either side of the border - would be reinstated at midnight on Thursday night.

And NSW deputy premier John Barilaro has announced his government would shift the current current two-and-half kilometre border zone, back to 50-kilometres.

Mr Barilaro said quarantine hubs would be set up along the border to house agriculture workers crossing into NSW to work.

The Senate has also supported a National Party motion, acknowledging travel restrictions imposed by state and territory governments, have had a negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of border community residents.

The motion also called on state and territory governments to adopt a risk-based health approach, based on clear definitions of COVID-19 hotspots.

Nationals Senate Leader Bridget McKenzie said states and territories needed to take border community concerns seriously.

"Protecting the health of the Australian community is the number one priority but because of city-centric parochialism many of our farms are at a standstill and businesses are being forced to shut without the medical evidence to justify border closures," Senator McKenzie said.

"There now needs to be a standard approach to inbound quarantine with stringent checks, and equivalent processing systems that will give confidence as we learn to live with the virus."

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Wait and see

But Ms Symes said Victoria would await the final details of the public health orders, while continuing to advocate for border communities and the agricultural sector.

"I'm disappointed to see major limitations remain on our farmers and agricultural workers - I'll continue to seek vital changes," Ms Symes said.

"There will be further improvements that can be made, and I will continue to seek those improvements."

Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke also welcomed the partial relaxation of the restrictions.

But he warned Victorian farmers would continue to experience problems with the movement of people and product in both states.

"I have been talking to farmers day and night and I've never seen this level of anxiety and worry from farmers," Mr Jochinke said.

"That is why we need a uniform and consistent approach to these border and labour force issues and not the constant changing of the rules that we have witnessed in the last fortnight.

"Victorian farmers have been hit by drought and bushfire and now COVID-19."

He said farmers had been looking forward to the prospect of one of the best seasons, in years, only to be tangled up in a web of red tape imposed by people who simply did not understand the economic implications.

"The VFF will continue to discuss the frustrating limitations on agriculture that are still in place with the Victorian and federal Agriculture Ministers and push for a solution through the recently announced National Agriculture Worker Code."

Move conditional 

Mr Marshall said relaxation of border restrictions was conditional.

"There's one caveat on this - and that is that we don't have further community transmission in that western part of Vic between now and midnight on Thursday night."

He said the decision had been made after more information was received about cases in western Victoria, and defended the initial move to strengthen border restrictions from August 21.

"The information that's been provided to us by the Victorian authorities has given the Transition Committee the confidence to put that 40km buffer either side of the border back in place for this coming Friday," he said.

"We've said from day one, we don't want to be disrupting communities but we will listen to the expert advice and will act promptly."

SA's chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said midnight on Thursday had been selected as the best time to reinstate the buffer zone as it would be 14 days - a full incubation period - since the last case was diagnosed in the Glenelg Shire, which lies just across the Vic border from Mount Gambier.

She said Vic authorities had also provided more information about testing rates in western Victoria.

"It's not just the numbers, or where they're from, or the chains of transmission, it's also to do with how much testing is being done," she said.

"If you don't test a large number of people in that population, you can't be sure that you're capturing everybody that might have symptoms or might be positive for COVID-19.

"I've also got detailed information about the testing rates in all those LGAs. The Glenelg Shire has a particularly good testing rate. Mildura is one where the rates are a little bit lower, certainly lower than they are in SA."

Professor Spurrier said while the decision to reinstate the buffer zone was based on case numbers, the impact on cross-border communities couldn't be ignored.

"We really need to have a look also at the impact on the people that live in those areas, and it has been extremely disruptive, and I don't think anyone could say that's not the case," she said.

"But we do need to look at the safety of South Australians, and now that I have further information from Vic and it's very detailed, I think we can confidently move back to that situation."

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SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said people applying for exemptions to be able to cross the border should not experience delays in hearing back about their applications.

"The approval process at the moment is virtually real time for people who are applying for essential traveller status," he said.

"Those people who currently have a situation which requires them to move between Vic and SA as part of a cross-border community, in many cases their current approvals will still be active, but we'd certainly be encouraging and communicating with those affected communities to make sure their approval is correct, so that when they do approach the border, they are not unduly hindered in terms of being able to move across."

He confirmed that people travelling between Vic and SA in the 40km buffer zone would once again be required to be tested every seven days.

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