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Queensland and New South Wales border communities plead for coronavirus plan as Annastacia Palaszczuk doubles down

Year 12 student Lucy Baker does not think she will see her family again before the end of the school year.

Just weeks from the end of term three, Lucy would ordinarily be heading home from boarding school at Stuartholme in Brisbane to her family’s farm just outside Glen Innes, a town around 120 kilometres south of the Queensland border.

It’s a set of circumstances that works like home-based quarantine.

While there are exemptions in place for agricultural workers, and in postcodes allowed free movement thanks to so-called border bubbles, boarding students are not included.

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The frustration for students like Lucy is the fact that during the first border closure this year, boarding students were exempt from quarantine upon their return to Queensland.

A school student in uniform standing outside a private school
Lucy Baker wants to go home for the school holidays.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

“I think that’s the tough thing, knowing it’s a possibility,” Lucy said.

“We’re just going home to our property where we see like five or six people, then come back to school.

Lucy said while she was keen to go home, it was the Year 7 boarding students she was most concerned about.

That cohort of children will have to endure 20 weeks away from their parents.

“Honestly, I think it’s like the bare minimum as well — we just want to go home, we’re not asking to travel around New South Wales and then come back in,” Lucy said.

No future-looking policy from either party

In recent days, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has doubled down on her intention to maintain border restrictions.

“Because you have seen the great results that have been occurring in Queensland.”

A family standing inside a roofed cattle pen
The Baker family live on a farm near Glen Innes and are unlikely to see their daughter Lucy again before Christmas.(Supplied: Baker family)

Queensland’s continually low tally of coronavirus cases has been widely commended.

But at the same media conference, the ABC asked whether there had been thought and planning to minimise the impact on border communities in the event of future border closures — a question the Premier failed to answer directly.

“If we, as a nation, can focus on Victoria and New South Wales and get everything under control there, then the whole country can open up,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Similarly, the State Opposition was been unable to nominate any particular alternative course of action for the long-term management of the border.

LNP leader Deb Frecklington said that as an alternative premier she would install a “cross-border commissioner” to liaise with communities most affected by border divisions.

“The first thing I’d be doing differently is I’d be working with the New South Wales Government,” Ms Frecklington said.

“I really do support national consistency when it comes to issues like medical emergencies, agriculture and aviation,” she said.

Calls for a border restrictions road map

Communities along the border are frustrated by the lack of any clear policy or plan from either party beyond short-term management of virus suppression.

In Goondiwindi, a Queensland town that straddles the border with New South Wales, Mayor Lawrence Springborg — a former Queensland LNP leader — said his community needed a road map out of border restrictions.

Goondiwindi Mayor Lawrence Springborg
Goondiwindi Mayor Lawrence Springborg says a road map would give the community greater certainty.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

“Unless you live in a border community or you’re part of a border community … you don’t understand how interconnected Queensland and New South Wales is,” Mr Springborg said.

Since the border closed again to New South Wales on August 7, Mr Springborg said it took three weeks for the Goondiwindi Regional Council to negotiate exemptions for the region — the most urgent of which were now in place.

“Surely we probably know enough about this now to have a bit of an idea on how we should be responding in the future based on what we’ve learnt to date and giving people that clarity in weeks and months ahead.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Goondiwindi Tyre Service owner David Turner, who is also heads up the region’s chamber of commerce.

A man leaning on a stack of tyres in a tyre shop
David Turner says the big problem is border residents don’t know what will happen next.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

“COVID’s got to be contained in some way, shape or form, we’ve got no argument with any of that – but it’s how they do it that is the concern,” Mr Turner said.

“The big drama for us in this area is that we don’t know what’s going to happen next, and the crops don’t wait.

“If the border gets closed again in the next couple of months, you know we’re in big trouble — all of us.”

A woman and her young daughter sitting on a couch with a story book
Carla Dillon’s husband has a chronic health condition but they are currently separated by the border.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

For Goondiwindi-based midwife Carla Dillon, the stress of her husband needing to stay at the family’s farm 65 kilometres away on the New South Wales side of the border has taken a toll.

“Initially he had to stay there, we had to stay here, and we couldn’t get out there,” Ms Dillon said.

Her husband Justin Dillon suffers from a chronic health condition, and while he now has an exemption to travel back into town, the scars of being separated for two weeks remain.

While the family applied for a health-based exemption on August 7, they did not hear anything for 12 days before the rules changed anyway, and allowed him a postcode-based exemption.

“Because we have had that happen once before and it created 14 days or so of absolute chaos for our little family.”


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