A Bridge too far

Wednesday June 03, 2020

Published by The Border Watch

By Sandra Morello

Nelson business operators express frustration as regional political leaders ‘draw line in sand’ over border restrictions

LIMESTONE Coast political leaders have drawn a line in the sand over the easing border restrictions amid some calls for the lockdown to end.

While communities straddling the Victorian border are calling for greater movement, Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell and Labor Party politician Clare Scriven are steadfast these measures must remain at this time.

This comes as a Nelson business operators express frustration regarding the lockout of Mount Gambier-based residents visiting the riverside township.

Nelson businesses - which rely on visitors from across the border - have been hit heavily by the lack of activity.

It is understood the State Government and departmental heads are this week continuing to canvass when border restrictions may ease.

Nelson Kiosk owner Paul Singleton said he would like to see the borders reopen given the restrictions had significantly hurt businesses in the township.

“The large part of my business is people from Mount Gambier coming to Nelson for recreation,” Mr Singleton told The Border Watch yesterday.

Mr Singleton said Nelson was a cross-border community and residents had exemptions to travel into South Australia to access shopping and services in Mount Gambier.

He described the Mount Gambier and the Nelson area as one community.

While Nelson was just 30 minutes drive from Mount Gambier, he said people from South Australia could not visit their family across the border.

“A lot of people living in Nelson have family in South Australia,” Mr Singleton said.

He said this had led to some people living in Nelson district feeling isolated.

Mr Singleton - who lives in South Australia - said he had randomly seen SA Police patrol the border at Nelson, which was one of a number of access points into the state.

Nelson Canoe Hire owner Chris Carson echoed similar comments.

“We would like to see border restrictions lifted. Our business has been shut down due to the restrictions. We have had virtually no business at all,” Mr Carson said.

He said the restrictions had hit the Nelson economy hard and there was a feeling of isolation in the community.

“In a small town, it is very noticeable,” Mr Carson added.

However, he said Nelson did not want a huge influx of people due to the COVID-19 threat.

“It is a double-edge sword. We want visitors here, but we do not want the virus,” Mr Carson said.

Member for Barker Tony Pasin said the reopening of state borders needed to be done methodically and with caution.

“What I do think should be implemented faster is the easing of restrictions on intrastate trade.

“Labor first called for the border closure back in March, which was subsequently implemented by the State Government,” Ms Scriven said.

“We have yet to see a compelling case for easing border restrictions.”

Ms Scriven said the most important consideration was the health and safety of regional people.

“Although it is difficult for border communities like ours, even with the exemptions for those who need to cross the border regularly for work or school, it will be far worse if we have a second wave of COVID-19,” Ms Scriven said. 

“If there is a second wave and businesses are forced to close down again and people again have to stay home, that will further devastate our local economy.”

Meanwhile, Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell said yesterday he did not want to see the border restrictions ease until businesses in the Blue Lake city returned to full capacity.

He said hospitality venues, gyms, dance schools and other businesses were operating at reduced capacity given social-distancing rules.

“I would like to see businesses that can meet social distance requirements return to a sensible level,” Mr Bell said.

He cited hotels with large dining rooms as an example of where the maximum 20 person per room rule needed to be expanded.

“One size does not fit all. These hotels could quite safely cater for 50 people in some of their larger rooms,” Mr Bell said.

But he welcomed ongoing discussions within the government regarding border controls.

Mr Bell said the discussions did not necessarily mean the border restrictions would ease soon.

Limestone Coast Local

Government Association president Erika Vickery said the association did not have a formal view regarding whether border restrictions should remain.

She said the association was following the advice and directions of the State Government.