Tighter border is ‘not okay’, says Anne Webster

MEMBER for Mallee Anne Webster has slammed the NSW Government's stricter border controls, describing the move as a "knee jerk policy" that is bringing unnecessary harm to border communities.

A tighter border of about two kilometres either side of the Murray River was enforced on Wednesday and new permits limited to border residents or critical services are now in effect.

People can now only cross the border for work or school if they cannot work or study from home; or for medical care and health services.

"I have great concern about the new border restrictions and the people that it will include and exclude," Dr Webster told The Guardian.

"The way that they have gone about it is extraordinary, it speaks of urban-centric policy making that is not based on fact. It does not understand regional communities, regional lifestyle and regional economy; they've got to do better than this.

"Consultation with regional communities would be a really good start."

The NSW Government's new border policy also bans seasonal works from Victoria, crossing the Murray River, cutting off thousands from essential harvest work.

"I'm hearing stories of millions of dollars of contracts that are not able to go ahead or are so delayed due to quarantine that they lose the contract," Dr Webster said.

"I think there have been some very unwise statements included.

"For example, Mr Marshall's statement that visa holders are a high risk of a potential spreaders of COVID-19 but others who live in permanent Victoria are fine, is not only a gross misinterpretation of the community, it doesn't acknowledge how homogeneous our communities are. We live on one side of the river and work on the other. There are thousands of people who do this all along the river."

Dr Webster said the tighter border controls were unfairly targeting small town residents compared to their metropolitan counterparts.

"It's a very divisive policy that does not represent or resolve the issue at hand," she said.

"COVID-19 is not in an outbreak in regional Victoria, if there was a community spread in Swan Hill then it would make sense to lock it down.

"But there isn't. These arbitrary closures of borders are bringing a lot of harm — my email and phone has been running hot with people who are really distressed."

Dr Webster said she was "doing everything she can" to lift the restrictions to allow border communities to function as normal.

"I am having constant contact with the cross-border commissioner James McTavish and his deputy Emma Watts," she said.

"I'm having multiple phone calls with the deputy prime minister urging action to plead with the NSW Government to reconsider what is unwarranted, there is no evidence for it, no medical proof that this is required.

"I am seeking them to retract this policy to allow our cross border communities to function with our seasonal work force."

Dr Webster said she had requested a meeting with the prime minster to fight for seasonal workers to get permits.

"This is not a time to be patient and gracious, this is a time to say this is not okay," she said.

"Our regional communities should not be pushed around in this way that we suffer in a way that is unjustifiable.

"If we had community spread you understand it but we don't have. It's not just our economy that is really going to struggle to get up and thrive again but its also people's health and well-being."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian doesn't believe tough border rules for seasonal workers need to change, suggesting to growers they employ out-of-work locals instead.

Ms Berejeklian was asked in her Wednesday press conference about Citrus Australia's concerns under the state's new "border zone" rules, which do not classify seasonal workers as critical.

In her response, Ms Berejiklian said the large number of people in NSW who were on the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs was a possible solution to any labour shortages the rules may create.

"This has been a longstanding issue — we've said for seasonal workers, if you're coming into NSW, it doesn't matter where you're from, you have to go through 14 days of isolation," she said.

"That's been our standard practice and that won't change and nor should it change, frankly.

"Anything which is high-risk needs to be curtailed.

"Everybody has to comply and unfortunately we know in NSW, there's no shortage of labour, we know many people don't have jobs at the moment."