BRIDGET McKENZIE, The Weekly Times
July 13, 2020
THERE would be few people who don’t feel genuine concern for Melbourne and agree closing off affected COVID-19 areas is the right move.
Isolated outbreaks require swift, decisive action on a local level with a local response.
It was right to implement a hard lockdown of Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, although the one-size-fits-all border closure imposed on Victoria highlights a real disconnect between city and country.
The lockdown negates the need for state border closures, which stall economic recovery while punishing regional Victorians who’ve done the right thing.
However, would border closures even be required if Melbourne’s lockdown had come sooner is a debate for a later time. Right now we must stay united and focused on minimising the spread of COVID-19.
Simplified cross-border access for farmers, freight operators and local communities need to be maintained.
An example is the decision to close the Tooleybuc bridge which joins Piangil in Victoria’s north. A five-minute trip for locals instantly and without warning became more than 80 minutes and caused major delays and frustration for interstate freight operators.
Thankfully, evidence-based campaigning from locals and MPs such as Nationals Member for Mallee Anne Webster saw commonsense prevail and crucial smaller crossings, including the Tooleybuc bridge, reopened.
It was impossible for locals to see what crossings were open and closed until after 1pm Monday.
It highlights the fact decisions made in Melbourne and Sydney genuinely affect rural and regional economies, health service, education, social and mental wellbeing. They have created confusion and ambiguity for border communities and regional populations.
I have written to the Victorian and NSW premiers urging them to extent what constitutes a border community to a 100km radius.
Although a 50km drive beyond the ragged mountain ranges may be a horizon too far for a contented city-dweller, for some in the country it can be the school drop off or a one-way trip to netball training.
City bureaucrats would do well to spend some time in the regions – in Wodonga, Werrimull, Warwick, Wallumbilla or wherever – to better understand there’s more to life than time-consuming commutes to and from the daily city grind.
We need our regional economies open because when our regions are strong Australia is strong. When the economy struggles community health and wellbeing struggles.
There are tough days, weeks and months ahead as Australia gets through this difficult period. We need to look out for each other, just as we do in times of droughts, floods and fire.
Regional Australians are not, and cannot be, complacent.
- Bridget McKenzie is The Nationals Senator for Victoria