NSW promises to ease border restrictions

By Geoff Adams

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is promising to further loosen up restrictions on cross-border travel with Victoria, which may ease the pressure on farm workers.

However, the health regulations had not yet been written and she suggested last week that it could take up to a week before they came into effect.

Vineyard worker Leo Patterson lives in Shepparton and works in Barooga, just over the river in NSW.

He was prevented from working for five weeks and had to take annual leave because of the restrictions.

Under changes introduced two weeks ago he was able to make an application for a travel permit online and received approval on September 13.

“I live in north Shepparton, so it was just inside the border zone,” Mr Patterson said.

“If I was further south I may not have been able to get across yet.”

He went back to work on Monday, September 14.

Ms Berejiklian announced that with restrictions easing in regional Victoria, NSW was similarly doing so for border communities.

“So whatever you can do in regional Victoria you can do in those (border) communities,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We're also increasing the number of towns, I think around Shepparton, that will be included in the border community and we will provide hundreds of exemptions for shearers and harvesters to make sure critical ag workers are getting across the border.”

Restrictions have prevented agricultural workers from crossing into NSW from certain parts of Victoria.

Ms Berejiklian said the amended public health orders, which would allow the change, were currently with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and should be signed Wednesday or Thursday, September 23 or 24.

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes told Country News she had been having almost daily conversations with NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall, but the new national agriculture code had still not been signed by Thursday, September 17.

“But in the interim, what I’ve literally been doing is having producers, harvesters, shearers contact me seeking an exemption if they have to go further than 100 km or if they are indeed outside the regional bubble in Victoria,” Ms Symes said.

“Adam’s office has been helping me process individual cases for exemptions, which is not ideal, but we’ve been helping as many people as we can.

“When the agricultural code is enacted through a health order for NSW these problems should go away, which will be important for predominantly shearing and harvest.”

Ms Symes said the NSW Government had issued new maps delineating the "border bubble" zone, which now included more of Shepparton as well as Benalla.

“We have been advocating through my cross-border commissioner for as many towns as possible to be included,” she said.

“We know who accesses the border quite regularly and people in Benalla were quite aggrieved that Shepparton was in and they were out, but they are in now.”

Asked how hard she had been pushing for changes, Ms Symes said the issue had been a challenge because she was responsible for co-ordinating the border issues, but had no power to fix them.

“So I do feel as though I have been continually knocking on the door and we’ve seen some small wins, so I’ll continue to do so,” she said.