2020 not a ‘write off’ yet despite new border region zones

By Daniel Hughes

The implementation of a new border region is doing more harm than good in the Southern Riverina, according to Berrigan Shire Council.

The new region — which includes the postcode areas of 2710, 2711, 2712, 2713 and 2714 and many others — was announced by the NSW Government on Friday, with the intention of easing the pressure on cross border communities.

It would mean eligible residents in the defined border region will be exempt from the NSW Government’s latest restrictions, which mandates that all people returning to NSW from Victoria pass through Sydney Airport.

But council director corporate services Matt Hansen said the stricter permit conditions that come with it has forced some district businesses to lay off some key staff members and scramble to find suitable replacements.

He said the border region has also done little to reduce confusion, and argues it has only made it worse.

‘‘The border region actually tightens the conditions for travel again, and requires all those with existing permits to reapply,’’ he said.

‘‘We have contractors and staff who are outside the border region by only a short distance.
‘‘For them to conduct work in the shire they would have to go straight to Sydney airport to isolate for 14 days, before somehow making their way back to the shire to work.

‘‘Our staff at the library have done an incredible job helping those who don’t have access to computer facilities or who are unable to get a permit from home.

‘‘Many of those residents don’t have their own email, so our staff are having to use the library ones.

‘‘It is taking up about 60 to 70 per cent of their time.

‘‘To combat this we have had to add additional casual staff to help patrons with permits, and to run the general operations of the library.’’

Until yesterday, Finley Saleyards operators thought the changes would also shut down the local sales.

But Stock Agents Association president Greg McNamara said a last minute clarification confirmed they could continue to hold sales.

‘‘We have had some workers unable to attend the sale days, however we believe we’ve been able to address that now,’’ he said.

‘‘As of 12.30pm today (Tuesday) we are all systems go at Finley Saleyards.

‘‘We will have a couple of buyers from Victoria who won’t be able to attend but currently our main buyers are still able to attend.

‘‘We will push on for now and hope the situation doesn’t change again.’’

Only those with a specific permit will be allowed to bypass the Sydney stopover, and the self-funded city hotel quarantine requirement.

It applies only to those with critical service permits, which include: movement of freight on a commercial basis; movement of persons on a commercial basis; medical, hospital, dental or veterinary care; Commonwealth defence and security services; mining, agriculture, construction, energy or manufacturing; environmental cleaning and disinfection in a workplace or other non-residential premises to prevent the spread of Coronavirus on a commercial basis that is not available locally.

Permits are still required for all border crossings, and conditions relating to self isolation on return still apply regardless of whether you live in the declared border region.

Only those with an eligible health permit and necessary paperwork from their doctor are exempt from isolating, unless otherwise stated on your permit.

Mr Hansen said council is still working to find a more appropriate and easily understood system for the Southern Riverina.

He said it includes pushing for more of the Southern Riverina to be included in the blue border zone, which is separate to the border region.

One of the region’s biggest events has been cancelled, but locals are being asked not to ‘‘write off’’ the year yet.

The Berrigan & District Race Club last week confirmed its famed Berrigan Gold Cup, which was to be held October 31, could not proceed.

It is the latest of several large scale and smaller community events cancelled since the pandemic emerged in March.

And with no sign of restrictions being eased any time soon, there are growing concerns there will not be any community events for the rest of year — including some Christmas celebrations.

Berrigan Shire Mayor Matthew Hannan said as things have been changing quickly during the pandemic, he was not yet prepared to say ‘never’ on any future 2020 events.

‘‘The Gold Cup has been a big part of our community’s social calender and it’s difficult to see it cancelled this year,’’ he said.

‘‘However, over a long period of time events like these, as well as many of our big events around the shire that have already been cancelled, come back bigger and better.

‘‘It is something for our residents to look forward to.

‘‘I also wouldn’t write off this year just yet; there are still many social events on our calender to be excited about.

‘‘I believe we should continue in the mindset that many events can still go ahead, with committees working toward it being safe for all who attend.’’

The Berrigan Gold Cup has historically attracted gate numbers in excess of 3000, with racegoers coming to Berrigan from all over the region.

Berrigan & District Race Club president Geoff Swann said while its cancellation will place some short term financial pressure on the club, the decision was necessary for safety reasons.

‘‘In essence, the Gold Cup is a social outing and one of the biggest social events in the Berrigan Shire,’’ he said.

‘‘It all drilled down to social distancing, and that it would be too hard to monitor social distancing at an event like this.

‘‘It’s no different to the Deni Ute Muster and the agriculture shows which attract large social turnouts.

‘‘As a committee we are extremely disappointed to have to cancel the event.

‘‘It is unfortunate for the local community and, indeed, the wider community who attend each year. The Gold Cup brings in people from right around the region and has many people visiting (for the weekend) from outside the shire just to attend the event.’’

Mr Swann said holding the meet amidst social gathering rules would also have a far greater financial risk than cancelling.

‘‘Holding a race day for just a race meeting is not financially viable,’’ he said.

‘‘The races themselves don’t cover the costs of putting the meeting on. We rely heavily on patronage.

‘‘Missing this year’s Gold Cup will have an immediate impact on our ability to do many of our upgrades at the grounds, but we are readily applying for grants to supplement this financial loss.

‘‘And we do not believe the club will be in jeopardy moving forward.’’

The cancellation of the Gold Cup means the next meet on the Berrigan racing calendar will be the Finley Autumn Cup, scheduled for Saturday, March 12, 2021.

‘‘Although our 2020 race meetings are cancelled, the committee is working tirelessly in the background to upgrade our facilities to make the next race year bigger and better than ever,’’ Mr Swann said.

‘‘We look forward to seeing what the new normal will be and how we can make our autumn cup the best one yet.’’