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Agriculture deemed a critical service despite NSW-Victoria border closure

By Country News

The NSW Government has declared agriculture and freight are critical services in the wake of the NSW-Victoria border closure due to the high number of Victoria's COVID-19 cases.

The border between the two states was closed at midnight on July 7, with border towns including Echuca-Moama, Cobram-Barooga and Yarrawonga-Mulwala now navigating the new restrictions.

The border closure was not without difficulty; the Echuca-Moama river crossing faced lengthy delays and the Barmah bridge, which was initially closed on Tuesday night, re-opened following community pressure.

One of 55 identified crossings along the 1000 km length of shared border, it forced drivers to turn around and head for the Echuca-Moama bridge — 33 km to the west.

While people were expecting the bridge access to NSW to be guarded, no-one thought it would be permanently blocked.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has urged state governments to ease choke points at the Victoria-NSW border to help the agriculture sector.

The federal transport minister said farmers were being forced to detour more than 100 km to find open border crossings.

“I support more fluid crossovers over the river. That really needs to happen,” Mr McCormack told ABC radio on Friday.

“We need to do a lot more work today and in the next few hours to make sure that happens.”

Melbourne's coronavirus outbreak has sparked hard borders between NSW and Victoria, with people needing permission to travel interstate.

Mr McCormack has been in contact with state roads ministers and frustrated mayors about making it easier for farmers to cross.

The Nationals’ leader said he understood the medical reasons for lock-downs, but noted regional businesses would feel pain over the decision.

“It was so close to getting the economy back to somewhere where we needed to be,” Mr McCormack said.

“Businesses were starting to reopen, people were starting to see customers back, particularly in regional Victoria, and now it's all gone to custard.”

While some impacts to the Victorian and NSW agricultural industries are anticipated, Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes and her NSW counterpart Adam Marshall have committed to working through any issues that arise to ensure farmers and agribusinesses can continue get their produce to market.

“We are working closely with our federal and NSW counterparts to ensure freight movements across the border can continue and our agricultural products can be delivered to market shelves across Victoria,” Ms Symes said.

“We know there are many farmers, agricultural workers and service providers that need to cross the border regularly to do their jobs – we are committed to ensuring we can support them during this difficult time.”

Mr Marshall said the sector's importance to both states was why they were committed to keeping it running, despite the border closure.

VFF president David Jochinke said while a permit would be required, the VFF was pleased that agriculture had been categorised as a critical service.

“Our industry is a critical service and this is clearly acknowledged,” he said.

Updates will be found at: coronavirus.vic.gov.au and nsw.gov.au/covid-19 as more information is known.

To apply for a permit, visit: service.nsw.gov.au/transaction/apply-covid-19-nsw-border-entry-permit