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Call for rapid antigen test availability in regional Victoria

Letter

January 7, 2022

Hon. Martin Foley MP
Minister for Health, Ambulance Services and Equality

Dear Minister,

I write to seek your urgent assurance that the state government will make rapid antigen test (RAT) kits quickly and readily available to already-vulnerable regional and rural communities, businesses and services in Northern Victoria.

Echuca Moama and District Tourism speaks for many border and neighbouring communities when it confirms that local tourism and service operators, after two years of lockdown, restrictions and border closure, don’t have the resilience or opportunity to source and provide RAT kits to staff so they can keep their businesses open.

CEO Kathryn Mackenzie told me when I visited Echuca four weeks ago that many operators have been grappling to fill staff and skill shortages and taken on higher borrowings to carry through the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is similar in other regional communities.

Yet now, at the peak of the first almost-normal summer visitor season in two years, businesses have little choice but to close their doors or limit service because rising infection numbers and the RAT kit shortage mean that staff who may have become close contacts cannot work. This is having a significant impact on local communities desperate to achieve business recovery. And, from what you have said publicly, the RAT kit shortage is to continue for some weeks.

I understand that limited supplies of RAT kits have been distributed to the four busiest Melbourne testing centres and, while this is understandable, it is critical that regional communities, with very little capacity in these very difficult times, are not left without these resources to help manage an escalating crisis.

At the same time, people in the communities I represent are struggling to access PCR testing, where necessary, and are confused by public health information about isolation requirements. News of health service staff furloughed, supply chain shortages and pressure on ambulance and police response times is only aggravating a keen sense of uncertainty.

Victoria’s coronavirus website provides guidance around PCR and rapid antigen tests, but there is no information about what people who cannot access testing should do to keep themselves and their families and colleagues safe.

Our communities are looking for clear direction and updates during the Omicron surge akin to information regularly broadcast during emergencies such as bushfire. I therefore also ask the government urgently to put in place a public health information campaign that keeps people informed and safe.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Tania Maxwell MP
Member for Northern Victoria

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Give Northern Victoria tourism a head start

Media statement

October 21, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP has encouraged the state government to give regional tourism a head-start by allowing Melbourne residents to book accommodation and to travel to the North East, Central Victoria, Murray, Mallee and Sunraysia from October 29.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria put the request in a letter to Health Minister Martin Foley this week following representation from hospitality businesses hit hard by bushfire and COVID-19 lockdowns since January, last year.

“As a snapshot, the cumulative impact of the 2020 bushfires and pandemic restrictions that followed shortly afterwards is estimated by Tourism North East to have cost Wangaratta, Benalla, Indigo, Alpine, Towong, Mansfield, Murrindindi, alpine resorts and local communities at least $1.5 billion in the 16 months to June, this year, let alone the on-going cost of COVID restrictions since July,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Allowing Melbourne residents to travel and stay in our regions from October 29 – the Friday before what many enjoy as an extended weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup – would give our tourism sector and many small hospitality and retail businesses a great head-start towards recovery.

“It would help them set out on the path towards rebuilding cashflow that’s so critically important in all our communities after 20 months of severely restricted business. 

“With Victoria’s population aged 16 and over today achieving 70 per cent double vaccination almost a week ahead of target, it seems reasonable to expect the 80pc target should be met ahead of November 5, the date forecast in Victoria’s road-map.

“Many accommodation providers in the regions, and especially in Victoria’s east, rely heavily on a mix of metropolitan markets, including Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, and they stand to lose the advantage offered by the closest market if Melbourne people are unable to make bookings in regional communities for what is usually a boom weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup.

“While I encourage everyone to stay COVID-safe, I hope Mr Foley and the Health Department will recognise the opportunity that strong vaccination uptake offers to make the weekend a winner for our regional communities and tourism businesses.”

Image: Concrete Playground 2018

Border communities need business, not brokers

Wangaratta’s Cafe Pre Vue is usually brim with customers on a warm spring morning – but not today (Sep 14) because of unviable patron limits at regional hospitality venues.

STATEMENT

Comments by Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, in response to the Victorian government’s September 13 statement: ‘On-the-ground support for Victoria’s border communities’ –

September 14, 2021

I find it appalling that this is being done now when it would be plain common sense to allow border zone residents to travel both sides of the Murray, and for our many twin communities to operate, as usual, as one.

Our small businesses and cafes, clubs and pubs in places without cases just want to open for normal trade while observing COVID-safe settings. Similarly, skilled farm workers should be able to travel across the zone as seasonal work demands, heeding common rules.

No amount of money put up to activate on-ground ‘border broker’ support will bring small and sole trader business that depend on cross-border commerce back from the brink of bankruptcy, or re-open those which have closed. Nor nor will it provide revenue to fund staff wages.

Today, pub, club and cafe operators indicate they have floorspace capacity for more patrons and yet last week’s new rules say they can seat just 10 people indoors, regardless of venue size. With miserable weather forecast this weekend, how can these businesses remain viable?

Let’s use our respected Cross Border Commissioners to reinstate commerce and common rules in the border zone so places without cases can get back to work.