COVID-19 Cross border permits

Wednesday December 01, 2021

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:52): I thank the Liberal Party for the indulgence. I have a deadlock conference I need to get to. What I want to talk about today are the SA Health border permits. I acknowledge the very hard work that my staff are continually doing in our office. I heard yesterday in the member for Flinders' comments that as MPs we are only as good as the staff that we have who assist us. That is certainly the case in my electorate.

I have Bailey on the front counter, Kate, Denise and Travis. I have to say that the workload for a border MP's office over the last two years has been absolutely overwhelming. I do not want to be condescending, but I do not think the people who have city offices realise the workload on a regional MP who lives on a border and the pressure put on their staff. It is something I have never encountered. Each month we think it is going to get easier, but each month it gets harder. At the moment, it is being exacerbated by the SA Health border permits.

We talked a bit about just one case but this is one of many. We have had staff all day for weeks now, every day for weeks, trying to assist people to download apps on their phone, to connect digital vaccination certificates to that app, and that is for people who are a little bit technologically savvy.

Jack is an 80-year-old member of my community. Jack does not have any family in our region and he came into our office asking for help with the SA Health border permits. All Jack wanted to do was travel from Mount Gambier over to Victoria for a few hours to attend the Harrow Historical Society meeting, but he does not have an email address and he only has a home phone. He does not have a mobile. Unfortunately, Jack's experience is not unique. This system is failing particularly our older people and those who do not have a smartphone.

I guess it has been incredibly frustrating. My staff are very professional, so when they are making comments to me that some of the contacts in SA Health have been rude, dismissive and arrogant, I take that on board because all we are doing is providing a frontline service for the government representing our community. The very least I think people from SA Health can do is actually assist us to assist the state government in providing assistance to our community.

That is an area I would like to see improved because the wait times have been unacceptable. The attitude of people with comments like 'Well, get somebody else in their family to help them. You should not be doing it as the local MP's office. If they do not have a smartphone, then they cannot travel,' is absolutely appalling for many of our community members who live in a cross-border area.

I do hope the health minister gets a copy of this Hansard and looks at some of the attitudes. I know that people are under stress, our office is under stress, but you need to provide a service and I really want to thank my staff for their hours. Sometimes I will ring the office at 6 o'clock at night and Denise is still there because there is the other MP's work that needs to get done as well as assisting people with border permits.

So thank you to my staff. I would like some people in SA Health to pull their socks up and have a reality check on what it is like to be assisting people, not actually trying to denigrate people. With those comments, I make my contribution.