Private Members' Statements - COVID-19 and Barwon Electorate
COVID-19 AND BARWON ELECTORATE
In many ways Barwon is a unique electorate. In regards to border closures, it is the only electorate directly affected by three border closures during the pandemic. My teams in Narrabri, Cobar and Broken Hill have fielded hundreds of inquiries each month regarding access to services, business, family and education interstate. Broken Hill is closer to Adelaide than it is to Sydney. Many medical services that are not available in Broken Hill and the Far West are provided in Adelaide. The anguish and anxiety felt by people living in the Far West increased every day that they were unable to access services as they normally would. We had the inconsistent application of border closures resulting in people being turned around by South Australian police at the border and medical staff coming from South Australia, who expected to run clinics in Broken Hill, being denied exemptions because of a misinterpretation of a health order.
Aside from medical issues, there were families with dying relatives who were unable to be at their bedside as they passed away. This situation was duplicated with people in the eastern side of Barwon who were unable to get to family members in Queensland. There was so much pain, and so much mental stress. Family members were denied access to loved ones at times of need. In one example, the Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services agreed to grant an exemption for medical treatment in Queensland to a person from the Narrabri area, but the private hospital providing the services refused to accept the patient.
We did have some success in getting Queensland boarding school students home for the holidays. For that I thank the members of Parliament who were involved, the New South Wales Council of the Isolated Children's Parents' Association and individual parents who helped to make that happen. There were about 44 families in Barwon who stood to be affected by that. Think for a moment what it would be like to be told you cannot see your child without complying with a two-week quarantine in the best season our farmers have seen in years. The border closures exposed how reliant regional New South Wales communities are on interstate medical services. The system works in a fashion when there is free movement across borders. As soon as that was stopped people had to travel vast distances in New South Wales to get services. The arbitrary nature of the closures did not make a lot of sense. In towns that had never seen a case of the coronavirus, people from regional New South Wales had their interstate movements restricted.
I acknowledge the swift and non-partisan response from the New South Wales Minister for Health and Medical Research, Brad Hazzard. Any time I contacted him with a Victorian border issue that was dire, he assisted immediately. In one case a farming father needed to get to Melbourne to see his son, who was gravely ill. He could not isolate in Victoria because of animal welfare issues on his property. A common sense quarantine arrangement was reached to allow the father to see his son and get back to his remote property to attend to his animals. The New South Wales Cross Border Commissioner, James McTavish, and his team also worked tirelessly to advocate for the people from New South Wales. For that, I thank them.
The category of what constituted an "essential traveller" during the South Australian border closures changed frequently, creating frustration and angst in Far West communities. It also led to significant impacts for those working in the mining sector, and in accessing skilled staff who are drive-in drive-out or fly-in fly‑out workers. Many people accessing medical specialties had their surgeries cancelled or postponed indefinitely when South Australia Health made a decision not to provide services to New South Wales in their hospital systems.
We also received a number of requests from constituents seeking exemptions to cross the border from Victoria into New South Wales for compassionate reasons. One case was particularly sad. A family member was seeking an exemption to see her father, who had a degenerative neurological disease. The exemption was not provided as the father, based on medical advice, was not expected to pass away within the next seven days. He passed away without being able to see his daughter. We then assisted with an exemption for the daughter to attend her father's funeral without the need to quarantine in a Sydney hotel. Similarly, a Barwon man was denied entry into Queensland to attend his sister's funeral. Upon reapplying he was granted entry but had to quarantine and avoid physical contact, such as hugging or consoling, with any of his Queensland family.
Following closure of the Victoria-New South Wales borders, interstate tourism also came to a grinding halt. This led to a major economic impact on Barwon communities that are still recovering from summer bushfires and drought. Luckily, tourism within New South Wales has kept Barwon businesses afloat. People in regional New South Wales have to deal with a lot. The border closures have resulted in the cruel and heartless treatment of people who do not deserve it. Our State leaders must do better.