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No change to tough SA-Vic border control: Marshall

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Premier Steven Marshall says he hopes to lift a controversial restriction on the movement of cross-border communities “very soon”, but no changes will be made currently to the controls which have prompted outcry from border communities and prompted regional MPs to demand a more collaborative approach between South Australia and Victoria.

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Marshall today said he “fully accepts” that the harsh new restrictions, which kick in overnight, have caused “much heartbreak and frustration and anxiety” on the Victorian border, but the controls were needed to keep South Australians safe.

The controversial impositions on communities straddling the border came into force overnight, banning citizens from travelling across the border between South Australia and Victoria unless attending or dropping students at year 11 or 12 classes or working in primary industries.

“We announced this two weeks ago, we wanted to give the maximum amount of warning before these harsher restrictions were put in place,” Marshall said.

“At that time we saw widespread seeding of the coronavirus across regional Victoria – this was of great concern to us.

“Recently, there has been a stabilisation and decrease in the number regional infections, but we’re still concerned, we’re still monitoring.”

Marshall said he hoped to allow cross-border communities to return to a 40-kilometre travel radius within South Australia “very soon” to provide an “enormous relief” to cross-border communities.

“My commitment is that the entire team here in South Australia is gathering the evidence so that we can do that and we can do that safely, but we are not going to be announcing that today,” he said.

South Australia recorded no new COVID-19 cases today, but six people in the state are currently infectious and are quarantining.

State and federal MPs representing electorates on either side of the border have penned a letter to SA Police Commissioner – and state emergency co-ordinator – Grant Stevens and his Victorian counterpart Shane Patton, calling for a “collaborative policing approach to the management of our borders during the COVID-19 health crisis”.

In the letter, the MPs representing Liberal, National and Independent-held seats in SA and Victoria, wrote: “We, the co-signed local state and federal government members whose electorates span the South Australia, New South Wales and Victorian borders, seek a collaborative policing approach to the management of our borders during the COVID-19 health crisis.”

“Border protection is fundamental for our three states and the greater Australian community – we urge a co-operative approach,” they write.

It is signed by state Liberal MPs Nick McBride (Mackillop) and Adrian Pederick (Hammond) and Mount Gambier Independent Troy Bell, as well as Victorian MPs Emma Kealy (National), Roma Britnell (Liberal) and Ali Cupper (Independent). SA federal MP for Barker Tony Pasin and his National colleague for Mallee Anne Webster are also signatories.

It’s understood Chaffey MP Tim Whetstone, who recently resigned from the Marshall cabinet amid the country allowance scandal, was also approached to co-sign the letter but declined – leaving a noticeable gap among the signature blocks included.

He did not respond to inquiries today.

“Keeping our communities safe from the impacts of the COVID-19 virus is a priority for all of us, as is ensuring the welfare and sustainability of our deeply entwined cross border communities,” the contributing MPs write.

“While we acknowledge that each state jurisdiction is governed by its own emergency legislation, we believe a collaborative approach could result in an enhanced emergency response that delivers risk-based management of the health crisis at our state borders.

“We believe such an approach could deliver nuanced controls and better outcomes for our cross-border communities which protects their health, wellbeing, education and economic outcomes.”

Stevens said today he had received the letter and was “acutely aware of the implications on the cross-border communities”, but reiterated that “we’re acting on advice from the Chief Public Health Officer”.

“Nothing will be on place any longer than it has to be,” he said.

“There is a significant impose for a relatively small number of people in Victoria who need to access services in SA, and we’ll do as much as we can to support them in that time.”

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said state border decisions were a potential “flashpoint for the future of Australia’s federation”.

He labelled some border restrictions as city-centric and impractical.

“Unless Premiers commit to work with one another to find workable solutions to state border issues for regional Australians then they risk states becoming irrelevant to modern Australia,” Littleproud said.

“While we support evidence-based restrictions to protect human health, ongoing border restrictions on large sections of Queensland New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia that have no COVID-19 cases are posing major challenges on agricultural supply chains, as well as on the health and welfare of residents.

“What these city-centric decisions fail to acknowledge is that modern regional Australia has outgrown state lines, and that many regions share strong economic, social and community links across borders.”

The new border restrictions are among the most draconian yet imposed under the ongoing SA emergency measures, with Stevens saying earlier this week: “As much as we try to accommodate those people who live in cross-border communities, at this point in time, with the activity of coronavirus in regional Victoria, the decision was made on health advice that this was a step that we needed to take.”

“We’ve had to draw a line somewhere and we used the SA-Victoria border,” he said.

Meanwhile, more new restrictions mean COVID marshals will be out in force at a range of venues from today including gyms, shopping centres, cafes, food courts, places of worship and licensed premises.

The marshals will be a “visual reminder” to patrons to comply with social distancing and other hygiene measures.

Businesses have complained about the additional expense of having marshals on duty while sporting and social clubs are concerned about the additional burden it will place on volunteers.

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