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More than 1,000 Indigo Shire residents unable to work because of COVID-19 cross-border closures

ABC Health logo ABC Health 30/07/2020 By Mikaela Ortolan
a car parked on a city street: Residents in towns like Chiltern are being preventing from travelling to work across the border. (Supplied: Indigo Shire Council) © Provided by ABC Health Residents in towns like Chiltern are being preventing from travelling to work across the border. (Supplied: Indigo Shire Council)

It is estimated that more than 1,000 Indigo Shire residents in north-east Victoria have been unable to go to work since the New South Wales-Victoria border restrictions tightened last week.

Figures came from the latest census data that indicated 14 per cent of the shire worked on the NSW side of the border in Albury.

Residents who do not fall under an exemption category do not qualify for a permit to cross the border as the shire falls outside the blue zone.

Mayor Jenny O'Connor said councils across the border have been rallying for change but there has still been no answers or communication from the NSW Government.

"Nothing is happening, it's extraordinary," she said.

"We're being hung out to dry."

Ms O'Connor said residents along the border have taken restrictions in their stride but people's livelihoods were at risk.

"There are no cases [of COVID-19] in Indigo Shire so to be protecting NSW from us doesn't add up," she said.

"We don't have the virus here so we're not likely to be spreading it into NSW."

Owner of the Rutherglen IGA supermarket Mick Dare has felt the impacts through his business.

He has been struggling with staff numbers since restrictions were enforced as many lived on the other side of the border in Corowa.

"A lot of our staff have gone from 10–15 hours a week to 40-plus hours a week," Mr Dare said.

He said it has been tough for business and a common-sense approach was needed.

"It's frustrating to be restricted for so long without anyone stepping up, saying, "Right, let's look at this on a case-by-case basis'," Mr Dare said.

Border blindside

Ms O'Connor has slammed NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian for comments yesterday on how she was 'blindsided' by the closure of the Queensland border to Sydneysiders.

"It's a bit of a cheek because we heard nothing from her [about the NSW-Victoria border closure] and we've been appealing to her directly and have had no response," she said.

Ms O'Connor raised concerns for the local economy and the mental health of residents.

"The impact on rural people whose livelihoods are already under pressure; it's disgraceful," she said.

Member for Indi Helen Haines said restrictions were putting unnecessary stress on residents.

"Right now, people on the border regions are facing tougher restrictions than people living in capital cities where there is community transmission," she said.

"It's simply not fair."

Ms Haines said a solution was needed before the point of no return was reached.

"The reality is this border is closed for a significant period of time so we need to look for ways that this is sustainable for all workers," she said.

"What we have is an unworkable, artificial zone that's placing enormous pressure on small business and families.

"We need a remedy that keeps people safe but allows our businesses to get on with their jobs."

New permit needed

Member for Benambra Bill Tilly said he has been pushing for a new permit called the Continuity of Employment which could be the solution for many workers.

"It would resolve a whole range of issues for people outside the blue bubble," he said.

"Every job is important whether you're inside the blue zone or outside."

The suggested permit was raised at last night's briefing and at the NSW Cabinet meeting.

It is hoped a decision will be made later today.

However, Mr Tilly said restrictions on the border relied on Victorians doing the right thing which was concerning given today's record-breaking number of cases.

"The Victorian Government has to give surety and certainty to the NSW Government that they can contain the spread and community transmission is kept to the absolute minimum," he said.

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