Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has called for a “common-sense” and consistent approach to state border closures, urging leaders not to ignore “forgotten Australians” living in border communities.
Mr Littleproud is tasked with thrashing out a new code with his state counterparts to allow agricultural workers to safely cross borders, after National Cabinet agreed to work to resolve the issue on Friday.
The meeting followed the decision of South Australia to ban almost all Victorians from crossing into the state.
“Out here, we feel like we're the forgotten Australians. These decisions have been made and predicated on capital cities, not on regional Australians,” Mr Littleproud told the ABC.
“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.
"At the end of the day, we're all Australians. We're going to have to learn to live with the virus for some time."
COVID-safe plans required
The code will require farmers and agricultural businesses to have a COVID-safe plan in place before they can cross state lines.
Businesses will need to be able to trace their movements and have personal protective equipment at their disposal.
Mr Littleproud said the requirements are being worked through with each of the state and territory’s Chief Medical Officers, expressing frustration about the slow progress in easing entry restrictions for the agricultural sector.
“States can act unilaterally on this, because two weeks [delayed entry] will still see severe outcomes for agricultural production systems and particularly animal welfare.”
“We wait another two weeks, we'll see farmers who are not going to be able to get to their properties, just because they're outside of a bubble, not be able to treat their animals.”
On Friday, National Cabinet agreed to resolve the issues around border closures, with the Federal AHPPC body to draw up a definition on when a region should be declared a coronavirus hotspot.
“If there is a clear definition of what a hotspot is, then it would be odd to operate outside of that, and if people were operating outside of that, then that would be very clear,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
After midnight on Thursday, a hard border was put in force between South Australia and Victoria, barring Victorians living in border communities who usually work, shop or receive medical care in their neighbouring state from entering.
Exemptions are in place for Victorian Year 11 and 12 students, patients requiring life-saving treatment, freight drivers working essential routes and farmers whose properties are on the border.
Western Australia also has a hard border in place, barring all non-residents from entering, with Premier Mark McGowan warning interstate travel may be off the cards until 2021.
Fruit pickers welcome
Mr Littleproud also announced National Cabinet had agreed to expand a pilot allowing a small number of seasonal workers to arrive in Australia to assist in harvesting fruit.
The Northern Territory is preparing to welcome 170 workers from Vanuatu to harvest mangoes. They will be granted exemptions from Australia’s ban on international arrivals.
“We're now saying to the states that you can openly work through, and we'll provide visas under the Pacific Work and Seasonal Worker programs for you to bring in those from countries that wish to participate, isolate in your own state and allow them to work,” Mr Littleproud said.
“In fact, there's even a clearer pathway for them - the Australian Border Force commissioner, as I understand, now has the approval to simply approve their visas if they come in.”
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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