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Border communities deserve respect and reward, not eviction

Letter to editors

September 6, 2021

It’s ironic that five of the Northern Victorian local government areas cut from the border zone on September 2 have at least two things in common.

First, Buloke, Yarriambiack, Benalla, Loddon and Greater Bendigo are places without COVID cases.

Second, the member-communities that comprise these council areas have achieved some of the highest vaccination rates in Victoria, with Buloke’s population recording the state’s top rural count of both first and second doses in the latest Commonwealth local government area vaccination report*.

So, I share the deep disappointment of communities, mayors, councillors and staff whose councils have been dumped from the bubble without consultation or explanation from the state government.

Like the rest of us, they were left to make sense of this statement from Victoria’s Health Department:

‘With over one thousand cases per day, and a trajectory of exponential growth, the risk that NSW poses to Victoria is bigger than ever. That’s why we are reducing the number of communities in the border bubble from 11.59pm on…2 September.’

The border bubble has proved a relief for Northern Victoria’s communities after months and months of disruption.

It’s enabled people to go to work and medical appointments, visit their families, play sport and contribute to their communities in very difficult times. They’ve responded to the pandemic, lived by the rules, gone out and got tested, and kept COVID-safe.

It’s a lesson in risk management that deserves respect, engagement and reward, not eviction.

Tania Maxwell MP
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria
Wangaratta

* First and second dose vaccination % (population aged 15 and over) by local government area

  • Benalla 66.7, 43.8
  • Buloke 71.6, 48.4
  • Greater Bendigo 62.0, 40.7
  • Loddon 62.7, 35.8
  • Yarriambiack 67.0, 41.3

Source data [August 28, 2021]

Time for border common sense

Adjournment

August 3, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:31): My adjournment is for the Minister for Health, and the action I seek is for the government to consult and engage with regional communities when considering restrictions before the end of the state of emergency and the pathway out of this pandemic.

Over the past year I have asked the government to consider a traffic-light system for restrictions in Victoria to allow places without cases to operate at a level proportionate to their absence of case numbers, and to provide some measure of flexibility and certainty within regional areas.

Regional Victoria has been subject to restrictions for at least a third of the past year. We are emerging from lockdown number five, and communities are worried about how they will get through lockdowns six, seven and so on. In border communities there is confusion, anger and frustration about the substantially tightened cross-border rules. The (Victorian) border zone is home to 573,000 people, and in recent weeks there have been five active cases, all suppressed. Across the border (in NSW) there are no cases north, west or south of Goulburn. Albury-Wodonga has had over 300 days of zero cases. That is not to say ‘Let it rip’, but contact tracing has enormously improved and vaccination numbers are building, and we should have confidence in that.

Albury-Wodonga media was briefed on the border bubble restrictions, but there was no interaction by the government with border mayors. Wodonga mayor Kevin Poulton told ABC Goulburn-Murray yesterday: ‘We just seem to get forgotten in the whitewash’. The Gannawarra Shire Council recently passed a motion to call on the government to assess any restrictions on a local government area basis with input from the local council. Other regional councillors in conversation with me, or publicly, have shared their support for a response that is much more nuanced.

Regional communities have proved that they will stand up in response to any outbreaks and take local and individual responsibility. Industry groups are frustrated that their proactive proposals for protocols to manage risks are given no feedback. Many local businesses are near broke and in substantial debt. Their psychological resilience is spent, their children’s learning is constantly disrupted, their other health needs are being pushed to the side, and they are beyond frustrated.

There is a need for stronger and collaborative engagement with regional communities, including in the four-phase plan agreed between states and the federal government that maps the pathway out of repeated lockdowns.

Places-without-cases deserve a fair go, and I ask the government to talk with us, listen and use some common sense.

Lockdown business deserves confidence and security ready-reckoner

Beechworth’s Ford Street, usually packed with vehicles and shoppers, all but deserted since the ‘circuitbreaker’ lockdown announced on May 26, 2021.

Tania Maxwell MP says business deserves to know it will be supported when the state government calls a snap lockdown to contain a COVID-19 virus outbreak.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the government and its agencies should by now have a workable ready-reckoner in place so an affected business can calculate with confidence the financial support it can expect when a sudden ‘circuitbreaker’ forces a trading shutdown.

“Yesterday’s announcement of a week-long closure of all but authorised work is the fourth lockdown that business and retail operators have had to wear since March 2020,” Ms Maxwell said.

“I understand that circumstances will vary, and that outbreaks are unpredictable, but it’s imperative that business owners and managers know they can rely on a publicly-funded, straightforward system that compensates them for loss of trade and keeps staff paid when there’s a shutdown.

“Business can no longer fall-back on JobKeeper after the federal government closed this program on March 31, and after the impacts of the past year many small businesses are still trying to get back on their feet.

“My office has spoken with the Treasurer’s office this morning and we’ve been told it’s ‘hopeful’ that a new support package will be announced during the weekend.

“But the point I want to bring home to the government is that we’ve been here before – three times.

“As I’ve raised in Parliament consistently in the past year, the near-constant enforcement of restrictions on all Victorians continues to create a host of wider problems.

“These include economic and social impacts, especially in our tourism, hospitality, fitness, events and retail sectors and for the employees who work in them.

“I know of many businesses in the Northern Victorian communities that I represent that will stand down staff for as long as this fourth lockdown lasts.

“But in most of these communities we have no COVID-19 cases.

“So while a statewide shutdown is imposed on all of us I think it’s only fair that businesses forced to close should be compensated so staff can still be paid and costs met.”