Communities along the South Australia-Victoria border say the tightening of border restrictions over the weekend is “another blow”.

Key points:

  • Cross-border community members say the regional lockdown is not a “proportionate” response to the Melbourne outbreak
  • National Cabinet failed to reach consensus on the Agricultural Worker Movement Code in September
  • SAPOL says people with permits can cross the border for shopping, caregiving, medical treatment, education and employment

Victorians were ordered into a snap five-day lockdown at 11:59pm on Friday, after more cases of coronavirus virus were linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport hotel outbreak.

For the first time regional Victorians must stay within 5 kilometres of their home and can only leave to shop for necessary goods, caregiving, if they are an essential worker or for permitted education, and exercise.

Cross-border farmer James Hawkins said closing the border again was “really disappointing”.

“We can’t say we’re surprised at this point,” he said.

“Sort of unfortunate that we’re at this stage where the Federation is not working as one, and 12 months into a pandemic, we haven’t really got any uniform system for crossing borders and moving around the country.”

Mr Hawkins said he thought the border closures last year were appropriate, but this time it was “a completely different scenario”.

“I think it is just another blow in a long series of blows that’s been unfortunate for cross-border communities.”

A South Australian Police officer checks a driver’s travel permit entering South Australia from Victoria.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

‘Fully expecting’ the closure

Farmer Rebecca Barry crosses the border at least twice each day to travel between her home in Apsley and her work in Naracoorte.

“We were fully expecting for borders to be shut again, like they have done for the last 12 months,” Ms Barry said.

“What we were expecting was perhaps going back to a weekly COVID test for adults, and obviously recognising the fact that only cross-border community members are able to cross the border.”

She said she was most concerned about the border crossing issues, not the Victorian lockdown itself.

“We’re happy to abide by restrictions if it’s going to help control the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

“We definitely want clarity from the South Australian Government that border restrictions are going to be eased as soon as the numbers change in Victoria.”

She has been calling for a national ag permit to allow farmers and industry personnel to travel across borders to undertake agricultural work.

National Cabinet failed to reach consensus on the Agricultural Worker Movement Code in September.

“The up and down angst of borders [being] opened and closed is just so much on farming communities,” Ms Barry said.

“Farming communities and people involved in the industry [need to] have the confidence moving forward to know that no matter what happens with border restrictions, that they’re able to tend to their livestock, tend to their crops.”

SA Police said the restrictions would only remain as long as necessary.

“In this situation, we will be guided by the Victorian Government’s response to the current outbreak,” police said.

Regional schools left in the lurch

Pinnaroo Primary School principal Sunyl Vogt spent the weekend trying to work out the impact of the border closure on students and staff.(ABC News: Jessica Schremmer)

Cross-border communities have found themselves in a familiar state of confusion as directions provided by Police Commissioner Grant Stevens on Friday were contradicted in the latest SA Police release.

On Friday, Mr Stevens said Victorian residents were bound by Victorian Government restrictions and children who lived in Victoria would not be able to attend school in SA for the duration of the five-day lockdown.

But directions on the SA Police website stated “permitted education” as one of the reasons Victorian cross-border community members could leave their home.

Police said permitted education meant childcare or school for children whose parents were “engaging in essential cross-border employment or a child who is vulnerable.”

Pinnaroo Primary School principal Sunyl Vogt questioned what was classified as permitted education.

He said it had caused major confusion and disruption to his school.

Today, he expected to be down three staff members and five students because they lived on the Victorian side of the border.

“I have spoken to the SA COVID hotline over the weekend and have been told the staff and students may be able to come across but it’s very much open to the interpretation of the officer on the border at the time,” Mr Vogt said.

He said while he did receive some information from the Education Department over the weekend, key points were still being clarified.

“As far as us running a school goes, it’s probably a little late,” he said.

“They decided to take the weekend off and think about it, whereas we don’t have that luxury.

“It’s OK to be flexible but we’ve got a classroom without a teacher at the moment and we’re going to have to combine a couple of classes together to make sure those students are covered.”