Cross Border Call Out

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Petition for Conversation, Clarification & Change

South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall, MP

South Australian Chief Medical Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier

Commissioner of Police, Grant Stevens, being the State Coordinator for the State of South Australia

Victoria Premier, Daniel Andrews, MP

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

17 August 2020

We are those who have recently become known as “Cross Border Community Members”. We reside either side of the State border between South Australia and Victoria.

As Admins of the Cross Border Call Out page on Facebook, we have sought to share the stories of our community. Whilst we do not pretend to speak on behalf of anyone other than ourselves, we believe we have broad support in what we say herein.

For many of us we are South Australian for all intents and purposes, except for our residence. For others, we are South Australians but employed in Victoria. We have always shared our lives across the border unfettered.

We acknowledge that the virus SARS-CoV-2 responsible for COVID-19 is a major health threat causing significant fear in our community. We accept that reasonable border restrictions are a legitimate response to the threat posed by COVID-19.

Victorian border residents are currently in Stage 3 restrictions so already wear masks outside their homes. Social distancing, wearing a mask and being tested every 7 days is surely sufficient to address the threat of COVID-19 in our Cross Border Communities.

The REFF in Victoria is currently sitting at 0.86. Numbers of active cases have dropped across the region and the State. We do not understand the heightened border strategy from South Australia in the current circumstances. It is a disproportionate response with significant ramifications. 

We maintain that the collateral damage caused to rural and regional communities on the South Australian and Victorian border is disproportionate to the COVID-19 threat in that region when risk mitigation strategies are implemented.

We object to the hard closures that have been implemented by the South Australian Government which are having significant adverse effects on Cross Border Communities. For example;

1. There is significant confusion around the permit approval process. Some people are being told they have to wait until the new Direction comes into force on Friday (21st August) to apply for their exemption permits, others are having their approved, but are unclear whether they are approved under the new rules or not. It is impractical to ask people to make significant decisions about their situations with 7 days notice, let alone ask them to wait until the day the new rules are implemented to apply for permits which are pertinent to their decision making process.

2. Medical exemptions are proving incredibly difficult to obtain. Continuity of care does not appear to be a consideration for SA Health in assessing applications for medical exemptions. There seems to be a complete disregard for patients who have a local GP in SA and Specialists in Adelaide, but who happen to live within 40kms of the SA border in Victoria. We are aware of a cancer patient being refused a permit, of people booked in for surgery being refused a permit, of a pregnant woman being refused a permit for pregnancy care, and similar stories you can read on our page. There is a delusional expectation that these people are able to easily obtain these services in Victoria.

3. Agriculture and primary industries are currently confused and anxious about the implementation of Emergency Management (Cross Border Travel No11) (COVID-19) Direction 2020. There have been inconsistent answers to what should be simple questions. 

a. Victoria farmers with land in South Australia are receiving conflicting information from border patrols and the COVID information line about their eligibility for permits. They have been told they are no longer able to cross the border into SA. This appears correct in relation to Schedule 1 Cross Border Permits, but there has been no clarification as to whether SAPOL will be approving farmers applications under Schedule 2(3)(a) given the additional criteria required. Does SAPOL accept that farming is time critical, the skills are not readily or easily available in SA, and if they were, would require significant financial cost for jobs that can be done by the farmer themselves if they were simply able to cross the border. If Victorian farmers are unable to attend to their farming properties in SA, will the South Australian Government commit to funding the management of those properties? Further will the South Australian Government commit to protecting farmers from animal welfare prosecutions should livestock be unattended without water or food? There are serious animal welfare issues here that have not been adequately considered.

b. South Australian Cross Border Community members in the Agriculture and Primary Industries are still able to apply under Schedule 1 (5)(4), but have been told they need to apply under Schedule 2 (3) Specialist Workers in essential sectors, which adds additional eligibility criteria such as a risk mitigation plan relating to COVID-19 approved by the Department for Health and Wellbeing (SA). For larger businesses this may be manageable, for family farms this is proving overwhelming. The process of drafting and getting a plan approved is not simple and advice such as “you’ll need to get your lawyer to help you” is not helpful.

4. Businesses are closing their doors.  For example, Victorian residents with small businesses in a SA have closed their doors because they are unable to obtain a permit to enter SA resulting in business and job losses for South Australians.

5. Many cross border community members will lose both employment and income because of this border closure. From Mill workers, to teachers many have already had their permits declined.

6. Health workers are being denied approval by SA Health to work in Health Services in South Australian border towns. These towns do not have a large pool of qualified people to back fill these positions. 6 people have been declined from one aged care site alone that we are aware of. What is the concern if those working in Aged Care comply with the new requirements to wear PPE and continue to have their cross border testing every 7 days?

7. Businesses losing employees and customers. The South Australian Government is talking about opening up the South Australian economy but the collateral damage from the hard border closure is that businesses are losing their employees and customers. The loss from the Agriculture and Primary Industry sector alone is worth millions given the restrictions on farmers from Victoria who are unable to enter SA for supplies. Schools will be without teachers and will have to manage a shortage whilst trying to provide online learning support for their students who have been denied access to their schooling because they live in Victoria. Other business are having to deal with employee shortages because their employees, who are trained and know what they are doing, are unable to cross the border to get to work.

8. Isolation and mental health. Given the hard border closure is causing significant upheaval, in addition to the threat of the virus, the compounding effects of isolation on our community’s mental health cannot be overestimated. Families have been separated. Some people are living alone in stage 3 restrictions in Victoria, isolated on farms or elsewhere because their families have relocated to SA so children can continue schooling. These are additional costs many cannot afford. Other families are together, but isolation, fickle internet and phone reception, the added pressures of schooling children, and not knowing one day to the next whether you will be permitted to travel for medical appointments or other supplies weighs heavily. The mental load is incalculable. We know that suicide is a very real risk in these situations. 

We have complied with requests to have COVID-19 tests weekly (within 7 days of crossing the border) and to date not one Cross Border Community Member has tested positive. We are not going to recklessly put ourselves at risk knowing we are being tested every 7 days!

In fact, the new restrictions are actually putting South Australia at further risk because you are requiring border residents to travel further into Victoria to do their shopping, business, meet their medical needs (if possible)  and then turn around and come into South Australia for permitted work. How does that make sense? 

We are offended by comments attributed to the Premier, Steven Marshall along the lines of “if the situation is so untenable in Victoria then people should relocate”. This is a truly privileged comment. How does the Premier expect anyone to get a permit to relocate? Let alone find suitable rental accommodation in South Australia and be able to move into it within 7 days? Does the Premier think sleeping on friends or families couches is an appropriate COVID responsible answer? The lack of empathy and understanding is devastating to this region that has a long history of supporting the Liberal Party.

As stated, Victorian border residents are currently in Stage 3 restrictions so already wear masks outside their homes. Social distancing, wearing a mask and being tested every 7 days is surely sufficient to address the threat of COVID-19 in an area with very few active cases.

We call on the South Australian Government, the Commissioner of Police as the State Coordinator of the State of South Australia, and the Chief Public Health Officer to please listen. We want to be responsible and to protect our communities. We don’t believe we are being unreasonable.  Specifically, please;

1. Reinstate the restrictions and permit system under Emergency Management (Cross Border Travel No. 10) (COVID) Direction 2020.

2. Consider a requirement to wear a mask and social distance when interacting in South Australia if that helps alleviate concern and open the borders to cross border residents.

3. Amend the restriction on people working in South Australia that prevents them from doing their shopping in South Australia also. You cannot ask essential workers to come to South Australia to do their job and then tell them they have to travel in the opposite direction, to do their shopping.

4. Consider a system whereby Victorian Border community members enter into an enforceable undertaking with the South Australian Police (or relevant body) to not travel further than 40kms into Victoria from the South Australian border. We understand this may require cooperation with the Victorian Police to enforce, but with the technology available in vehicle GPS, mobile phones, smart watches and like, surely monitoring compliance for this group of people wouldn’t be unreasonable.

5. Remove the restriction on South Australians not being able to return to South Australia from Victoria. You cannot in good faith, bring in a plane full of university students from overseas arguing that they are going into quarantine and deny the same basic right to citizens of your own State. It is in our submissions, unconscionable.

6. Expand the definition of “Compassionate grounds” in Schedule 2(7)(3) to include;

a. the reunification of family who are separated across borders with the appropriate period of isolation being observed.

b. a case by case review to determine an application on the facts of the case, based on the method of travel, risk mitigation strategies available, route and distance of travel, taking into account the need to help people grieve family members, attend to the sick and dying, assist with medication and the like.

Please take a few minutes to read the stories shared at our Facebook page @crossbordercallout People have been incredibly generous with their stories, sharing the impact this hard border closure is causing. 

We invite you to please contact us to discuss a way to move this forward, or just do what needs to be done and make the changes needed to take us back to a proportionate response.

Cross Border Call Out

Paula Gust, James Hawkins, Kylie Holland, Jason Law

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We farm for Australia: not just for our individual states.

We have an urgent need to move people, services and product across borders.

Our simple ask is to remove red tape and other restrictions so we can do our job, which is to feed the nation.