Hopes of ending weeks of heartache for communities on the Queensland-NSW border have been dashed once more, with the states’ leaders again strongly disagreeing over a proposal to move the hard border checkpoints south.
Queensland in late July reintroduced a hard border with its southern neighbours in response to the spiralling outbreak of COVID-19 in NSW, progressively tightening exemptions for cross border travel.
Currently, only a small class of essential workers from NSW can enter Queensland, creating chaos for the southern Gold Coast and Tweed regions.
But the Queensland government announced NSW had finally come to the table on moving the hard border.
An earlier offer to move checkpoints south to temporarily include the border town of Tweed Heads within Queensland was declined by NSW.
“We are very pleased that finally, after so many months, NSW has now said they are open to talking with us on moving checkpoints,” Queensland Attorney-general Shannon Fentiman told reporters on Saturday.
“As someone that grew up on the Gold Coast, that border community really is one community and trying to make things easier for people to take their kids to school, to get medical appointments absolutely makes sense.”
“We’re just really pleased that NSW has finally realised how tough it is for that border community,” she said.
She said it’s very early days, with issues like policing of the border to be worked out.
However, NSW leaders have hit back at Queensland’s “frustrating” approach, saying their leaders were lying.
“Let me make this clear, despite noise from the Queensland Government yesterday, the NSW government vehemently opposes moving the border check point south to the Tweed River,” NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said in a statement on Saturday.
“What we want is a genuine border bubble so that workers can get to work and people can access vital health care.”
Barilaro again wrote to Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath in the past week to advocate for that solution instead.
A border bubble would still require travel permits, while moving the border south would not, but would create a challenge for Queensland to police an area outside its own jurisdiction.
There is no neat geographical feature that can be used to support enforcement and compliance operations, NSW authorities say, and the region’s access to health care would be diminished if the Tweed Hospital was temporarily absorbed into Queensland.
NSW officials were trying to develop a workable solution for the border community, but their attempts have “fallen on deaf ears,” Barilaro said.
“NSW correspondence goes unanswered, even my own letter to the Queensland Health Minister has gone unanswered.”
“It is becoming clear Queensland is not serious about finding a solution for our border communities.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard also expressed his view.
“It’s very frustrating for residents in the northern part of NSW to be effectively locked out by Queensland, and it’s presenting some real challenges,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“There are medical staff who are on the side of the border who work at the Gold Coast hospital and vice-versa.
“It’s certainly problematic.”
Moving checkpoints had been looked at and deemed unviable, but discussions continue, he said.
As NSW continues to reach grim milestones, with over a thousand new cases again reported on Saturday, restrictions in Queensland were eased on Friday afternoon after the state notched up its 20th day without a community-acquired case.
Up to 100 people are now allowed at home gatherings and 200 people are allowed at weddings and funerals, or one person per two square metres.
The same social-distancing limits are allowed in cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs, while stadiums and venues with ticketed seats can operate at 100 percent capacity.
Face masks are still mandatory indoors and outdoors where people are unable to socially-distance.
Four new, overseas-acquired cases were diagnosed in the state’s hotel quarantine on Friday.
By Tiffanie Turnbull