The impact of COVID-19 on the border towns of NSW and Queensland is having significant consequences. There have been delays of up to 90 minutes in crossing the border and it is also a challenge for the integrated communities as they move forward. Following the recent failure by the two women from Victoria, who came via Sydney, to self-isolate and who have since tested positive for COVID-19, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declared that greater Sydney will be a coronavirus hotspot from Saturday morning. This has also highlighted concerns around people visiting or returning to the Northern Rivers area who might bring the virus with them.
Move the border
The suggestion that the Queensland/NSW border checkpoints be moved to the south of the river was met with a negative response from local Tweed Shire Mayor Katie Milne last week. However, she did put forward the suggestion that ‘As an alternative, the respective state governments may wish to consider moving the border checkpoints to the southern end of the Tweed Shire where traffic could be more easily controlled’.
Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson told Echonetdaily that ‘It would make sense to have the border checkpoints at the three locations south of Tweed Heads given the interconnectedness of tweed heads and the Gold Coast’.
However, Ballina Shire Councillor, Keith Williams, and Mayor of Byron Shire Council, Simon Richardson disagree.
‘I understand the frustration of the Tweed Mayor, Katie Milne with the current border arrangements, they are extremely disruptive to the Tweed community,’ said Cr Williams.
‘But I can’t support the idea of moving the border south to the boundary with Byron Shire, that’s simply relocating the problem to another community and creating even greater uncertainty regarding what rules apply near the border.
‘The legal border is just that, the end of QLD jurisdiction and the start of NSW law.
‘Border communities need to work with the QLD government to develop rules and procedures that ease the impact on local residents while respecting that (formerly quaint) legal line in the sand.’
While Tweed councillor James Owen has previously suggested that a ‘locals lane’ be put in place, according to Tweed Mayor Katie Milne, the NSW police have said this is not viable.
‘Besides, if we move the border, can we be sure Queensland would give it back?’ quipped Cr Williams.
Byron Mayor, Simon Richardson agrees, telling Echonetdaily that he doesn’t support the idea of moving the border checkpoints.
‘It is literally kicking the inconvenience can down the road.
‘Firstly, I am unsure how legislatively and legally possible it is, even if it would be deemed preferable by the State government.
‘Secondly, though the current process is no doubt a frustrating inconvenience for residents of the Tweed, moving the border south simply creates an added inconvenience for residents of Ballina and Byron. The current situation is already inconveniencing Byron residents and workers, this will simply increase this impact,’ he said.
‘Lastly, unencumbered access to Tweed by Byron residents is crucial, as there is significant usage of Tweed hospital and John Flynn hospital, and other medical services, the many schools in Tweed, and there is a huge amount of daily commuting for Byron residents or workers who would be impacted.’
The mayor of Ballina Shire Council has said that while he understands the frustration being experienced by Tweed residents and businesses with the current border crossing situation, he is not sure how the idea would be implemented if moved even further south and west to encompass the Northern Rivers region.
‘There are so many roads down here, so I’m not sure they could do it,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘We will continue to follow the protocols put in place by the federal and NSW state governments.’
Ballina Byron airport risk
Councillor Johnson told Echonetdaily that ‘Of more concern to me is the Ballina airport and visitors going to Byron Bay via Ballina.
‘Having the airport and a tourist mecca on our doorstep only increases the likelihood that a hotspot could emerge in the Northern Rivers and lead to a further lockdown of businesses and schools.
‘What’s happening in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent in Sydney, is a worry and highlights that now is not the time to become complacent,’ he said.
All enquiries about the road closures should be directed to the Queensland Government on 13 74 68 and updates are available from COVID NSW.
For more information about Tweed Council’s response to COVID-19 and links to government and health information, visit Tweed Shire Emergency Dashboard.