Victorians who rely on South Australian towns for work and emergency management are calling on their State Government to rethink its new cross-border permit system.

Key points:

  • Victorians are angry their SA border bubble has been burst when one still exists on the NSW border
  • They say the new permit system is too onerous and has impacted volunteer firefighting capabilities
  • The State Governments say discussions about an SA border bubble are ongoing

Victoria has introduced a new system mandating everyone wanting to travel into the state to apply for a permit.

It had previously only required permits from New South Wales and Queensland residents.

NSW border communities are exempt from the permit system under “bubble” arrangements, but the Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed those on Victoria’s other border, at this stage, are not.

First bubble burst

The Nationals Member for Lowan, Emma Kealy, said the new system was causing major headaches for residents living in the old bubble between Victoria and SA.

“They can cross the border numerous times a day on a daily and weekly basis,” she said.

“[The new permit system] means people have to apply for a permit for every single destination they’re going to attend to in SA and they need to do so every two weeks, because the permits only last for a two-week period.”

Emma Kealy says the new system is causing problems.(Supplied: Emma Kealy)

Ms Kealy said she had been contacted by CFA volunteers who told her they had to apply for permits to fight the fire in Lucindale but could not, because they did not know when they would be able to return to Victoria.

She said she was aware of residents having to apply for numerous permits to cover workplaces, schools, supermarkets and other businesses they intended to visit.

“We know there needs to be border restrictions, we need to know when people have been into a red zone,” Ms Kealy said.

“But when people are living their lives on both sides of the border, we should have a system which gives some consideration to that, in the same way they’ve done so in NSW.”

This service station was gutted by the Lucindale fire, which has burned through more than 16,800 hectares and claimed four houses.(ABC: Lincoln Rothall)

‘Pain in the arse’

Ben Pevitt, a CFA volunteer and apprentice mechanic who lives in Casterton, Victoria, but works in Mount Gambier, SA, said the new permit system was difficult to use and hard to understand.

“It’s a real pain in the arse,” Mr Pevitt said.

“I can’t get a clear example of what we have to do, what they want us to do.

He said it took four attempts for him to get a permit, which influenced his decision on whether to help out as a CFA volunteer at Lucindale.

“I got a message to see if I wanted to go on the crew, but I didn’t accept it in case there was a bit of a stuff-around at the border,” Mr Pevitt said.

SA closed its border to Victoria for more than eight months last year, forcing Victorian residents to apply for permits to be allowed just 40 kilometres into the state.

People wishing to enter SA from interstate must still fill out an essential traveller number, meaning border residents must once again go through two sets of travel applications.

Maddi Redding, her son Fergus and Hamish Kester of Apsley have struggled with the border permit system.(Supplied: Maddi Redding)

‘Doesn’t make sense’

Maddi Redding lives with partner Hamish Kester and nine month old son Fergus on their farm at Apsley, 10 kilometres east of the SA border.

“It only takes two seconds, but the fact you have to remember that to get back, I have to go online and say I’m popping over to get some food is a bit inconvenient,” Ms Redding said.

“The new system doesn’t make sense for my partner, who is a farmer — he has to apply for a pass every time he pops into Naracoorte each day for farming supplies.

“I think we would all just like Victoria to speak to SA and to remember there are thousands of people on the border.

Ms Redding said businesses in border towns like Apsley would need financial support well into 2021, given the impact of the border closures on locals’ daily habits.

“The local pub here would probably not still be going if they didn’t have JobKeeper, because realistically half their business would come from Naracoorte and Frances,” she said.

“I haven’t been to Mount Gambier since March, even though I was probably allowed to.

“People have just got used to staying in their own state in the last six months, and probably won’t venture out very far from that.”

‘Silly idea’

An analysis conducted by the ABC in November last year found Victorians in SA border postcodes had been just as heavily affected by the pandemic as Melburnians, despite having fewer restrictions on their daily activities.

The ABC has contacted the Victorian Government for comment on support for businesses affected by border closures.

Mr Pevitt said the removal of the existing SA-Victoria border bubble while there was one in place along the NSW border was hard to stomach.

“I think it was a silly idea,” Mr Pevitt said.

“It feels like we’ve been thrown in the deep end, like ‘We’ll worry about them later, we’ll worry about NSW first.'”