A southern New South West council is preparing a “war chest” to help fund lobbying efforts for the reinstatement of a border bubble with Victoria.
- Murray River Council sets aside $100,000 for border-bubble campaign
- Mayor says border region has been devastated by more than 300 days of COVID induced restrictions
- NSW Premier concedes border regions have been greatly affected by the pandemic
The Murray River Council recently set aside $100,000 for the advertising campaign and was preparing to spend the cash when the current Delta outbreak took hold in Sydney and Western NSW.
Mayor Chris Bilkey said the region, which had been COVID-free throughout the duration of the pandemic, was struggling.
“Border communities, particularly on the NSW side, have been subject to more lockdowns and border closures than Sydney or Melbourne combined because whenever something in one state or the other, we cop it.
In a briefing on the regional COVID situation on Tuesday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state government wanted to relieve pressure on border communities as much as possible.
“But given where the case numbers are, just because your community doesn’t have a case at the moment, unfortunately, it doesn’t mean you won’t in the next few weeks and that’s the risk we have to weigh up,” the Premier said.
“We’re always willing to work with our Victorian colleagues in terms of making life as easy possible.”
A recent study by Murray Regional Tourism found that between March 2020 and April 2021, communities along the Murray River lost $1 billion and 10,000 jobs.
“The only saving grace we’ve had in the last two years has been that they have been kind years in terms of rainfall and agricultural production.
“That has kept some of the economy afloat. If it had not been for these two good years, we would literally be on our knees.”
Regional support for advocacy campaign
Cr Bilkey said the council would use the quarantined campaign cash once the NSW-wide lockdown ended and local communities were not at risk, to try and expedite the return of a visitable ‘border bubble’ as soon as possible.
He said the region relied heavily on visitors from Victoria and opening up the border to the south was a priority.
“Where we spend that money will depend very much on the situation and who’s calling the shots in terms of keeping our border zone along the NSW side inaccessible,” Cr Bilkey said.
He said the war chest could increase in value too.
“We do have some support from other councils, not all of them along the river, but some and we expect that when the appropriate time comes, we’ll be able to call on some other councils for some financial assistance as well.”
At Tuesday’s briefing, Deputy Premier John Barilaro was remaining tight-lipped about when the state-wide lockdown would end and the possibility of the reinstatement of the border bubble.
The Premier has acknowledged the region’s plight.
“It’s probably accurate to say during the pandemic, the last 18-20 months, our border communities have been most impacted.
“We do have an eye to the future and we’ll consider what life can be like for our border communities,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Accessing support ‘complicated and frustrating’
Councillor Bilkey has reiterated calls for geographic-specific support for border communities, recognising the impact the pandemic has had on the region.
He said the current assistance on offer was not cutting through.
“We’re finding many, many businesses are coming to us and saying it’s so complicated, time-consuming and frustrating to actually access and qualify for the grants that are supposedly available that some of them have actually given up.”