Published by The Border Watch
By Sandra Morello
Pressure mounts to lift travel restrictions
BORDER restrictions could be lifted within weeks amid mounting pressure from the business sector and federal political heavyweights.
It is understood restrictions could first scrapped along the Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australian borders given they have low or no new COVID-19 cases.
But border controls for Victorian and New South Wales may remain for some weeks given the higher number of cases in these states.
While a clearer picture is expected to emerge today, businesses across the Blue Lake city are pushing for greater easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
New figures show nearly 600 businesses in Mount Gambier are being underpinned by the Federal Government’s JobKeeper payments.
The Blue Lake city has been among the hardest hit from the economic downturn given it has the highest number of support payments in regional South Australia.
Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell - who has been in discussions with Premier Steven Marshall on the border issue - said the lifting of border restrictions was likely to be rolled out in two stages.
“The first stage will be opening South Australian borders to Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland,” Mr Bell said.
He said this relaxation followed low numbers of cases in those states and the Northern Territory.
“Then shortly after the borders with Victoria and New South Wales will be reopened,” Mr Bell said.
“I imagine the easing of the border restrictions will happening at the end of this month or early next month.”
Mr Bell called on the government to release the starting dates for both stages to regional businesses and sporting codes so they could start to prepare.
While the government was expected to unveil details today, the independent politician called for further restrictions that were hurting businesses to be lifted immediately.
“I want to see these restrictions lifted with great speed so businesses can welcome larger numbers of people,” Mr Bell said.
He said venues with large spaces, where it could be achieved safely, must be allowed to hold more people.
Mr Bell said these businesses in the hospitality, fitness and dance school sectors were still being hamstrung by restrictions.
And the avid Limestone Coast football fan also mooted need for sport to return to the grounds across the region, including holding hopes Western Border netball and football could kick-off.
He said this league needed to know the date when Victorian border restrictions would be scrapped given the situation with Casterton.
“They need time to prepare,” Mr Bell said.
PROMINENT HOSPITALITY OPERATOR CALLS FOR BORDERS TO OPEN IMMEDIATELY
Tourism leader and hospitality/accommodation operator Kent Comley has called for the border restrictions to end given they were hurting businesses.
“The last few months has a been a roller-coaster for businesses,” Mr Comley said.
Mr Comley - who operates The Barn at OB Flat - said his business traditionally relied heavily on interstate visitors.
He said around 40pc of his business were interstate travellers and 15pc were international visitors.
“We have no access to that at the moment - we need the borders to open as soon as possible,” Mr Comley explained.
While his hospitality venue could now cater for up to 80 people at a time across four rooms, he said the biggest issue was the lack of bookings for weddings, conferences and other events.
“We are taking calls from brides, the Chamber of Commerce and the Limestone Coast Wine Show trying to plan their events,” Mr Comley said.
“These people need a three to six month leeway - at the moment we are flying blind.
“There is a too much uncertainty, we need a clear roadmap from politicians.”
Mr Comley hoped the State Government today would announce details and timelines for stage three.
He said businesses were well prepared to operate in a COVID-19 safe environment.
BUSINESS LEADER ECHOES CALL FOR BUSINESS RESTRICTIONS BACKFLIP
Mount Gambier Chamber of Commerce president Hayley Neumann also threw her support behind the need to ease restrictions imposed on the business sector.
Given there had not been a COVID-19 case in Mount Gambier and in the state for some time, she said the region’s economy must reopen fully.
“It is definitely time to open the rest of the businesses up so they can operate in the new norm,” Ms Neumann said.
While the restrictions continued to impact on many businesses, she said it appeared confidence was lifting across the city.
“The streets are looking busier and there are people having coffee in cafes, which is lovely to see.”
But the business leader said she was not in a rush to see border restrictions ease unless it was given the green light from health officials.
FORESTRY BACKS CHANGES
The Green Triangle forestry sector has also rallied behind the easing of border restrictions given they are hampering tree planting efforts across the region.
This push comes as dozens of planters are crossing regularly to access plantation areas that straddle both sides of the border.
It is estimated 23 million hardwood and softwood seedlings will be planted across the Green Triangle this year as the industry replenishes harvested areas.
Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub executive general manager Liz McKinnon said border controls were restricting planting activities.
Explaining tree planters were predominately backpackers, she said these workers needed to self quarantine for 14 days when arriving into South Australia.
“These workers need to weave in and out of the border - they need greater flexibility Ms McKinnon added.
She said there were a number of tree planters - who did not want to self quarantine - waiting to cross into South Australia.
It is understood the Heywood Caravan Park is accommodating a large number of tree planters.