Morrison warns states to open up or pay up
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is threatening to force state leaders who are keeping their borders closed to stump up millions of dollars to support airlines hit hard by the travel restrictions.
The federal government is subsidising a basic aviation network during the pandemic, but Mr Morrison has warned the states will have to share the cost if they refuse to open up.
A 40km buffer zone along Victoria's western border is now being considered by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall to end the chaos he admits is causing "heartache and frustration" for cross-border communities.
The Herald Sun understands some federal MPs want to block South Australia's pilot program for the return of international students if the state refuses to ease its harsh domestic border.
The National Cabinet agreed on Friday to develop a new code for travelling agricultural workers, and to seek a new definition of virus hot spots to guide border closures.
But Mr Morrison conceded this would be a non-binding "process of transparency" to try and persuade state leaders to better target their restrictions.
While he demanded the states consider the "economic costs" of border closures, senior government sources conceded the political popularity of the restrictions was limiting his ability to force the issue with state leaders.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud blasted the "stupidity" of some border orders and demanded "common sense" from state leaders.
"At the moment we feel like the forgotten Australians. We feel as though the decisions that have arbitrarily been placed on us have been predicated for capital cities, not regional Australia," he said.
Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie said the "political one-upmanship" was "nonsensical" and tearing apart regional communities.
A coalition of Victorian and South Australian MPs wrote to the police chiefs in both states on Friday, urging a co-operative approach to deliver "nuanced controls for our cross-border communities which protects their health, wellbeing, education and economic outcomes".
Federal cabinet minister Dan Tehan, who lives in Hamilton, said "common sense" was needed on a border buffer, given the lack of COVID-19 cases in Victoria's west.
Mr Morrison said border closures could not be arbitrary.
"There needs to be a careful balance weighed up about the disruption and the cost and impact of those borders, weighed up against of the health benefits that are achieved by those borders," he said.
"Borders are no substitute for testing, tracing, and outbreak containment. You can get outbreaks in states that have borders."
Daniel Andrews was due to speak with Mr Marshall late on Friday. "If I were in their shoes, I probably would have made the same choice," he said.
FARMERS SAY SITUATION IS BORDERING ON MADNESS
COVID border closures are punishing Victorian country communities still hurting from drought and tearing families apart.
They will also kill animals, farmers warn.
Border towns are in chaos because of the South Australia and New South Wales road closures, which lock Victorians out, the Herald Sun has been told.
From Friday, even young Victorian children attending schools just over the South Australian border have been banned from going to class.
For farming families trying to get back on their feet after drought, home schooling children was a huge - and in many cases, impossible - ask, at their busiest time, farmers said
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said primary producers would also struggle to employ the workers they needed for harvest and picking this season - and to feed or tend animals and crops on the other side of the border - because of the closures.
"The brutal reality is we won't have the workforce that we usually call on for the seasonal harvest jobs . . . the way borders are being dealt with . . it's not attractive for anyone to travel to the country to work," he said.
While exemption permits allowed Victorian farmers and agricultural workers to travel 100km into NSW, and those living very close to the South Australia border to cross over, there were "many, many farmers" living outside the COVID border 'bubbles' who would suffer, Mr Jochinke said.
Agriculture was a national, not state-based, sector, he stressed.
"Australian farmers don't farm for their state, they farm for their country. When we talk about supply chains, we are talking about across the nation . . . farmers source stock, labour, equipment, feed and parts from all over the country," Mr Jochinke said.
But many permit applications to cross the border were being caught up in red tape and delayed, or denied, he said.
Permits are certainly at issue for farmer and crop duster Jason Law and his vet wife Claire, whose farm fence marks a border between Victoria and South Australia.
Their farm house sits on the South Australian side of the border but Ms Law operates vet clinics on both sides, in Naracoorte and Edenhope.
She has been declined three times by the South Australian government for a permit allowing her to work in Victoria.
Mr Law also sprays crops in both states, and is "waiting on clarity" to see if he can fly over the border, to work.
With Ms Law unable to treat Victorian animals and recently informed she could not even hand medical supplies over the border, she was now telling farmers to prepare to euthanase their dogs if they swallowed poison bait, because she could not help them.
She was also warning farmers she would not be able to help cows having trouble calving, horses with colic or other injured or ill animals, on the Victorian side, Mr Law said.
"It's not alarmist, it's just true . . . animals will die, there's no two ways about it," he said.
Until Friday, when 'cross-border community members' were removed as a category of essential travellers between Victoria and South Australia, three of their four young children attended school in the nearest town to the farm, Apsley, in Victoria.
But the kids are now home and Jason and Claire are too busy to home school.
"To take a few weeks away (to home school) from anyone in the agricultural sector in the Spring, is like taking way six or seven months from any other sector," Mr Law said. "About 80 per cent of our work and turnover happens in Spring."
In Victoria's northeast, the Cross family in the Indigo Valley is just one of thousands of families hurt by the NSW border closure.
Health professionals and farmers, Donna and her husband Craig have experienced first-hand how the closures have fractured communities and divided families.
Albury-Wodonga, was one town, "with health, education, business, agriculture, recreation all entwined", Ms Cross said.
"If you ask anyone in this region. . . they have all been dealing with very difficult times, including living on one side and working on the other," she said.
The constantly changing goalposts of permits and uncertainty has been weighing heavily on families across the region and having a major impact on business and services."
Working in health and aged care, the Cross family understood "the very real and present danger of COVID", but also knew a "blanket 'one size fits all' approach" rarely worked well.
Benambra MP Bill Tilley said the situation in Albury-Wodonga was farcical.
"We have been seen as one community for more than half a century," Mr Tilley said.
"Ridiculously rigid border crossing permits combined with Stage 3 restrictions applied to an area that is and has been COVID free for months is killing businesses and destroying families," he said.
Originally published as Morrison warns states to open up or pay up