Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Seeing red

- By LAURA GREEN

Ten thousand jobs and $1 billion in lost revenue.

That is the cost to the Murray region after 18 months of COVID-19 rules and snap border lockdowns in the region according to Murray Regional Tourism, and local councils have had enough.

Five councils along the NSW and Victoria border are uniting in a stance to advocate for fairer treatment of border communitie­s from both the NSW and Victorian government­s.

It was spearheade­d by Murray River Council, and also includes Edward River Council.

Murray River Mayor Chris Bilkey will draft a strategic document based on the research to help the councils advocate at a state level, and to plan their economic recovery — a process he says has been hampered due to Victorian policy surroundin­g the NSW side of the border.

In the Echuca-Moama area, the impact has been a $230 million loss and the loss of many jobs.

While data specific to Edward River is yet to be quantified, Cr Bilkey estimates it would be similar to Moama.

‘‘We want to encourage them (border councils) to work with local community leaders to come up with a safe strategy that encompasse­s more practical economic options when faced with restrictio­ns as a result of any future outbreaks,’’ Cr Bilkey said.

MRC recently committed up to $100,000 to an advertisin­g campaign to elevate its plight in Melbourne, but Cr Bilkey said the recent changes to border rules showed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews ‘‘does not have the appetite’’ to make tourism possible in the area again.

Victoria last week lifted its state-wide lockdown, but Mr Andrews has maintained the entirety of NSW as a red zone and banned travel from NSW border bubble residents to Victoria unless it is for essential purposes.

On a broader scale, MRC is encouragin­g councils to follow its lead in reaching out to the Victorian Government to lobby for the NSW side of the border bubble to be turned green again.

‘‘We have questioned whether the rationale for doing it (making all of NSW a red zone) stands up to logical examinatio­n,’’ Cr Bilkey said.

‘‘We don’t have a problem with the idea that Victorians shouldn’t go beyond the NSW side of the bubble — we don’t want them travelling up past Griffith and Wagga or god forbid to Sydney, but we do see that the vast majority of the business that comes here comes from Victoria.”

Cr Bilkey said the red zone means accommodat­ion businesses and those supported by them, such as cleaners and laundrists, are ‘‘flatlining’’ because of the policy.

He said the border region has become ‘‘the meat in the middle of the political sandwich’’ when one state wants to pressure another on their COVID policy, a sentiment shared by Edward River Council Mayor Norm Brennan.

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