Greens Member for Ballina Tamara Smith says she doesn’t agree with calls to close the New South Wales border.
Country Labor Federal Member for Richmond Justine Elliot was calling on the NSW premier to close the state’s borders after Queensland’a Labor-led government shut borders to the sunshine state last week.
Byron Mayor Simon Richardson and Ballina Mayor David Wright backed the call.
But while Ms Smith had called for an end to buses of backpackers coming to Byron, the Ballina MP echoed concerns of Nationals Member for Tweed Geoff Provest about police resources if NSW was to reciprocate Queensland’s move.
‘Our police do not want to waste their energy on border patrol,’ Ms Smith told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom last week.
Ms Smith said if NSW police had to patrol the border as QLD police are doing on the other side, it would divert them away from ‘really important stuff’.
Border patrol: ‘an army to catch a few fish’ says MP
‘I think community policing is far more important,’ said the Greens MP, adding that her view was based on what local police had told her.
‘It basically was described to me as putting an army to catch a few fish,’ Ms Smith said.
Monitoring people in the community who had confirmed cases of Coronavirus and were supposed to be in quarantine was a police priority along with promotion of physical distancing, she said.
Meanwhile, Tweed Byron Superintendent Roptell said he and his colleagues weren’t immune to COVID-19 but had already had to knock on the doors of people accused of breaching quarantine orders.
Stay-cations or cop it, say regional police
Regional police leaders around the state have urged NSW residents not to leave their homes this Easter for holidays and in particular, to stay away from regional areas like the Northern Rivers.
On-the-spot fines and six months jail time were applicable for anyone leaving home without an acceptable reason, listed as part of stricter public health orders announced last week in efforts to flatten the curve on the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘You come driving up from Sydney or you’re driving up from Coffs Harbour to go to Byron Bay, that’s non-essential travel,’ Supt Dave Roptell told Community Newsroom.
‘You’re caught and there’s proof that that’s occurred? $11,000’, he said, ’for every other day that you remain, there’s extra amounts of money also added on to that’.
Supt Roptell said he hoped policing of the pandemic wouldn’t get to the point where fines for non-essential travel were necessary.
‘Each case will be assessed on its own merits because you never know, someone in a caravan driving up the road, they might be going to their sick parents,’ the police leader said.
‘People will know that they’re doing the wrong thing or the right thing and we’ll get to the bottom of it.’
Essential travel? Not what you might think
Acceptable reasons for leaving the home included shopping for essential goods and services, with food and medicine often given as examples.
But with the Prime Minister defining anyone still actively employed as being an ‘essential worker’, volunteers and customers of organisations still operating were allowed to leave home for those purposes.
Ms Smith said the use of the word ‘essential’ in this context was disappointing but voiced concern over anecdotal reports of workers in retail shops besides those selling food receiving verbal abuse from passers-by for keeping their stores open during the pandemic.
Supt Roptell agreed travel to places still open and selling goods and services officially considered ‘essential’ was acceptable and wouldn’t incur fines.
‘You’re going to an essential service, you’re going to get your hair cut, someone’s employed, they’re cutting your hair, going to the shops, that’s an essential service, that would be permitted in my view,’ Supt Roptell said.
Both Ms Smith and Supt Roptell made it clear they supported the overall message to stay home, stay safe and to practice physical distancing.