‘Forgotten Australians’: regional areas need solution to state border closures, David Littleproud says

Agricultural minister David Littleproud has made another plea for “common sense” to prevail in regards to border restrictions, to clear a path for agricultural producers to navigate Australia’s closed states.

The Queensland minister accused state politicians of making coronavirus restriction decisions around capital cities and not taking into account the impact on regional communities, which have so far escaped the brunt of the pandemic.

Littleproud wants farmers to have freedom of navigation for agricultural production, which would allow them to cross closed state lines. The New South Wales and South Australian border closures to Victoria has created issues, as has the closure of the Queensland borders with NSW.

“We should do it in a safe way, and I think that we can do it if we’re listened to. Out here, we feel like we’re the forgotten Australians,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.

“These decisions have been made and predicated on capital cities, not on regional Australians.

“It’s really distressing not only for businesses, but when you see the human toll of people not being able to access medical attention because that’s where they get it from the other side of the border.”

Regional communities were among the first to be closed off during the beginning of the pandemic, with communities worried their vulnerable healthcare systems would be overwhelmed. Travel restrictions were put in place to stop people from more populated areas traveling to smaller communities to isolate.

The national cabinet has agreed to develop a national code for cross-border travel for agricultural workers, which is expected to look similar to the way freight drivers operate, with the issue to be discussed at the next meeting in two weeks’ time.

But Littleproud now wants the states to move now to ensure farmers can travel freely, and that their livestock and produce remain cared for.

“Let me make this clear – they don’t need to wait two weeks for this. States can act unilaterally on this,” he said.

“Because two weeks will still see severe outcomes for agricultural production systems and particularly animal welfare.

Following the most recent national cabinet meeting, Australia’s medical expert panel has agreed to define what constitutes a coronavirus “hotspot” in an attempt to get uniformity across the nation.

But there is nothing binding states to blocking out regions from entry, even with a national definition.

Queensland has declared New South Wales a hotspot because it still has low levels of community transmission of the virus, while also declaring the ACT, which has no known cases of community transmission, because of its proximity to NSW.

The most recent border closures have seen a war of words erupt between political parties, with Labor leaders Michael Gunner and Annastacia Palaszczuk accused of closing off the Northern Territory and Queensland respectively for “political” reasons, a claim both have denied.

Western Australia has no border opening in sight and Tasmania’s borders will remain closed until at least 1 December.

Australians trying to fly home will have to remain patient after a decision not to increase international arrival numbers.

Acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on Saturday the cap on arrivals was to do with capacity and resources in quarantine hotels.

About 4,000 people are still returning to the country each week, and consular officials are supporting around 15,000 Australians abroad.

with Australian Associated Press

Source: The Guardian

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