At 11:59pm tonight, the border between NSW and Victoria will close.
This is a decision taken by the Premier of NSW. It will cause significant disruption to many of us who live on the border.
I know many of you are asking why alternatives were not considered. We could have drawn the border either north of Albury or south of Wodonga, or even around Melbourne where the outbreak is concentrated.
Any of these options would have maintained the integrity of our single cross-border community of Albury-Wodonga and the many others who live on the border.
I share these questions. And the time will come to scrutinise this decision and hold our Governments to account for it.
But the decision has been made. The border will close tonight.
The best thing we can do right now is to ensure that we can continue to go about our lives as close to normal as possible. We need it to happen smoothly. In particular, the next 72 hours will be difficult. We have to get it right.
Here is what we know.
If you live in a border community, and you want to cross the border into NSW, you will need to apply for a permit.
Applications for permits will open this evening on the Service NSW website. The NSW Government has confirmed that border residents will be automatically approved for permits if they live in a border postcode. Victorians not in a border postcode will be considered for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
The NSW Government will later today release the full details of how this will work.
The NSW Police Commissioner confirmed this afternoon that if there is a failure in the permitting system and you still need to cross the border, you should approach the police at the border and explain your situation. You should take your driver’s licence and any other documentation to explain your need to cross the border. Expect delays.
However, there is much we still do not know.
The NSW Government has indicated it may take up to the three days before permits are issued. There is no clarity on what this means for border residents until they receive permits and what discretion police will show.
We don’t yet know which regions will be designated as “Border communities” to qualify for automatic permits. Many people living in places like Wangaratta, Chiltern and Beechworth travel every day into NSW for work need to be able to do so, not be excluded based on their postcode.
In the last 24 hours I have had calls from:
- A woman in Wangaratta who cares for her grandkids in Albury
- A man in Wangaratta who works in Corowa on weekends
- A nurse from Beechworth who works in Albury
- A trucker who lives in Wangaratta but transports burned logs up around Tumut
- Many people needing to attend appointments for dialysis or cancer treatment.
These people all need clarity on what the rules will be. Many will need to travel tomorrow. Yet applications will only open tonight and still there are no details on what the rules will be.
I am staggered that we are under 12 hours from closure, and these questions remain unanswered.
I am calling on the NSW Premier to provide an iron-clad guarantee that no Victorian will be prevented from crossing the NSW border to access healthcare and that if there are delays in issuing permits, that no Victorian will be prevented from crossing the border to get to work, for education or on compassionate grounds.
I also urge everybody to stay calm and focus on making the next 72 hours as smooth as possible.
It has been disappointing to see some politicians using the uncertainty around the border closure as an opportunity to take a swipe at one of the respective state governments involved.
People don’t care about the politics of this right now – they just want assurance that they’ll be able to get to work, see their families and access healthcare.
This is my absolute focus right now. And I’ll provide another update when we know more.
[July 7, 2020 – issued at 13:40]