Bell flags joint border response initiative

Tuesday August 04, 2020

Published by The Border Watch

By Raquel Mustillo

Urgent cross-border commissioner sought to drive collaboration across state lines

THE State Government should prioritise the establishment of a cross-border commissioner as a matter of urgency as community members combat the effects of a hard border closure, independent MP Troy Bell says.

The Member for Mount Gambier has urged Premier Steven Marshall and newly appointed Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister David Basham to establish a cross-border commissioner to facilitate stronger collaboration between South Australian and Victorian communities.

Mr Bell, who unsuccessfully attempted to gain parliamentary support for a cross-border commissioner in 2018, said the role should now be treated as a matter of urgency given the escalating coronavirus situation interstate.

As of last week, Victorians are eligible for cross-border community status if their residence is within 40km of the South Australian border and are permitted to travel to the 40km boundary while interstate.

Community members may only move between the two states for employment or education, providing or receiving care and support and obtaining food, fuel, supplies or medical care.

The changes have affected a range of arrangements formerly in place for Victorian/ South Australian residents, with residents of Portland, Heywood and Coleraine unable to traverse the border.

Mr Bell said COVID-19 had highlighted issues around cross-border complexities and the region was well poised to capitalise on stronger collaboration with Victorian border communities.

“I think we have come a long way in the last two months, but we also need to consider the way forward out of the COVID-19 pandemic and that is the work the cross-border commissioner should be doing,” he said.

BORDER SECURITY: Police remain committed to protecting the state with four recent detections of people attempting to flout controls and enter the Limestone Coast. Picture: MOLLY TAYLOR

“As policy is being set in Adelaide, those who are living near the border should be further considered.

“When there is an opportunity for increasing trade and reducing red tape, we should be doing it.”

Mr Bell pledged to raise the issue with Mr Marshall during the state leader’s two-day visit to the region this week.

“A cross-border commissioner would not only be able to advocate for South Australian residents, but also work to streamline the processes for communities impacted by these changes,” he said.

“I intend to put this firmly on the agenda of the Premier when he visits our city and sees firsthand the impact coronavirus is having on cross border communities.”

Mr Bell also raised concerns with the lack of personnel and resources including additional testing sites - for mandatory COVID19 testing.

Under the new directions, cross-border community members who are approved to enter South Australia must obtain a test as soon as practicable within seven days.

But Mr Bell said the new requirements had resulted in lengthy queues at the Mount Gambier Hospital and wait times of up to five hours.

“...(this) is a huge time imposition on people,” he said.

“I want to make the point that SA Pathology and medical staff deserve the utmost praise for doing the best they can under the current circumstances, however it’s clear they need more resources to cope with the demand. 

“We have large facilities such as the Mount Gambier Showgrounds or old Bunnings site with plenty of car parking, toilet facilities and access to main highways just sitting vacant when they could be utilised at this time.

“These are matters a cross-border commissioner could advocate for, as both the Victorian and New South Wales cross-border commissioners are doing right now for those states.”

In a press conference on Monday, Health Minister Stephen Wade said he was delighted with the number of tests undertaken in South Australia amid record breaking responses “Since this pandemic started, we have only had five days (over 4000 tests)... four of those days have been the last four days leading up into Sunday,” he said.

“It is no surprising in that context that we will have increased pressure on the facilities that are in place.

“We have more than 60 clinics right around the state, we are rolling out 11 mobile testing clinics.

“The Mount Gambier clinic doubled its capacity overnight and we are actively planning for a number of other clinics.”