Unchain regional Victoria, urges Swan Hill council mayor

DON'T tie Swan Hill to Melbourne.

That's the message Swan Hill mayor Bill Moar is sending Premier Daniel Andrews in response to the roadmap for regional Victoria.

"Extreme disappointment would be an understatement," Cr Moar told The Guardian.

"We thought given the low case numbers right throughout rural and remote Victoria that we'd have gone straight back to stage two and I can't see any reason why we can't.

"We need our schools to return immediately and to get back to where we were before."

Under the state government's new suite of steps, regional Victoria will have to reach five cases or less across 14 days and zero cases with an unknown source for 14 days for restrictions to ease.

But Cr Moar dismissed Mr Andrews' blanket approach, saying it will cripple small communities.

"I think the one size fits all approach doesn't really apply for us and tying us in with what happens in Melbourne," Cr Moar said.

"We are naturally isolated and socially distanced — we've got four people per square kilometre not four people per square metre.

"The knock-on effect this is having on our community is real and there is real collateral damage within our community in terms of physical and mental health."

Cr Moar said he was particularly concerned about older people's mental health and wellbeing as well as all those involved in the hospitality and tourism sector.

"Older people rely on social contact to keep themselves going...they are locked up and cannot get out which is not good," he said.

"Our tourism and hospitality industry has been absolutely smashed and they are becoming despondent.

"They got through the first wave/lockdown but now they are wondering if there is any light at the end of the tunnel. I really fear for them, their long-term business plans and their employees."

Another main concern for the Swan Hill mayor is the agriculture workforce with dryland and stone fruit harvest now approaching.

"Harvest is coming up right through our municipality starting in as little as seven weeks," Cr Moar said.

"We need labour mobility and we need a labour force. We're in unknown territory and we don't want to be in a position where fruit is rotting on the tree or vine. That's a real concern for us."

Cr Moar said he had met virtually with Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp to advocate for the Swan Hill community as well as writing to the premier.

"I have written to the premier around the concerns of people breaching containment and coming from Melbourne for no valid reason," Cr Moar said.

"We want to limit people's ability to come out of Melbourne so we are protected.

"Another point I made is do not underestimate our community's desire to protect our own patch. That's evident in the fact that we have got such few cases.

"We understand that this is a really complex situation, but please listen to people in rural and regional areas.

"The decision doesn't seem to be made on data for the majority of Victoria. It is made on data from Melbourne. Most of rural and regional Vic is free of the virus — if you are making decisions on data then why are we in the position that we are."