Border changes but agriculture moves delayed

By Geoff Adams

From this Friday, people living in communities along the NSW-Victoria border will be able to move within 50 km of both sides of the border, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced, but there has been no relief for the problems besetting agricultural workers.

“Having obviously heard the sustained concerns of the community, and seeing the rates of infection in Victoria decline, from this Friday, the border community, the border region, will be extended to that initial 50 km on either side of the border,” Ms Berejiklian said during a visit to the border town of Albury on Tuesday, September 1.

Ms Berejiklian blamed the Victorian Government for not providing up-to-date information about COVID-19.

The premier said it was difficult at times to get information about testing rates and case numbers from regional Victoria, preventing the government easing restrictions earlier.

The Victorian Government provides daily updates on infection numbers for each Victorian municipality, which is available to the media and the public.

The VFF welcomed the border zone change but pointed out that there were continuing problems for agricultural workers crossing into NSW to maintain farm businesses.

VFF president David Jochinke said talking and consulting with farmers in border regions was key to understanding the mass confusion and uncertainty that was jeopardising Victoria’s almost $40 billion agriculture industry.

“We have farmers that can’t access their properties interstate to check water, wean calves and mark lambs. All jobs that are absolutely vital to animal welfare,” he said.

“Decision-makers need to understand agriculture doesn’t only operate within state borders, it transcends these and we need an ironclad agreement from all states so critical agriculture can continue.''

The VFF's key requests are:

● Free up the movement of the agricultural workforce;

● Removal of arbitrary limitations on origin and destination travel;

● Smoother flow of agricultural goods and services intrastate and interstate;

● Regulatory change to ensure that agriculture is deemed an essential or critical service; and

● Asymptomatic testing should not be required, but if it is, testing should be accessible and affordable.

Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie welcomed the NSW Government’s move to finally expand the border zone after six weeks of livelihoods being disrupted and in some cases devastated.

Senator McKenzie said governments must move immediately to prioritise an agriculture workers’ code to allow movement of farmers and workers across borders, beyond the current 100 km zone.

Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has promised to release a dedicated regional roadmap providing greater certainty to communities, tourism operators and businesses alike that restrictions will be eased at a safe pace, based on localised health advice.

Discussions are under way with a range of industry, unions and community organisations to inform the final work on Victoria’s roadmap to ‘COVID Normal’, including a separate roadmap to protect and support regional Victoria, Regional Development Minister Jaclyn Symes has promised.