Desperate construction workers have risked being fined after uniting on either side of the Queensland-New South Wales state border to push for changes to COVID-19 restrictions, with one business owner claiming “they’ve been extorted from working”.
- Members of the construction industry met on the border calling to be classified as essential workers
- Tweed MP Geoff Provest says he’d like to see the border bubble south to the Clarence Valley reinstated
- The Queensland government has announced security at the border would be tightened
A group of industry representatives from both states met on either side of the border on Wednesday morning calling to change the classification of an essential worker.
With NSW currently in lockdown, tradies living south of the border risked being fined for breaching stay-at-home orders to attend the gathering.
“Our industry essentially is in an absolute state of chaos,” Master Builders Association Northern Rivers president Peter Leotta said.
With police from both states drawn to the group on the border today, spray painter George Tsakmakis said getting his message out during the NSW lockdown was worth the risk of being issued an infringement notice.
“Of course I am [concerned about being fined]. I’m just as concerned about losing thousands of dollars and my business going to the wall,” Mr Tsakmakis said.
“Everyone feels like they’ve been extorted from working simply because of the policies between the states.”
Essential worker definition changed
Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry echoed calls for the definition of essential worker to be broadened.
“That’s not a lot to ask, and that would have a huge impact on the [Tweed Shire] and the broader Northern Rivers region,” she said.
“We have to remember that we have not had a case of community transmission of COVID in the Northern Rivers since this outbreak began.
“There is no risk here at this point and this small change would make a difference to families’ lives.”
Cr Cherry said Tweed families were having to separate so that one parent could work and children could continue going to school.
Changes to restrictions coming
The gathering comes as Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young today said Queensland will look to tighten border restrictions further to ensure NSW workers crossing it were only “critically essential”.
Dr Young said government departments would work to determine what current exemptions for essential workers could be further reduced.
“[But] the biggest risk to Queensland is that northern part of New South Wales.”
‘Premier should push for border move’
Tweed MP Geoff Provest said he would like to see the border moved further south to the Clarence Valley and the border bubble reinstated.
He said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk should be doing more than writing to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian about moving the border.
“By the time you pen a letter, by the time that comes through, takes a long period of time.”
The Member for Tweed said a border further south could be jointly manned by Queensland and NSW police.
“Most of the police here on the border regions are sworn in as special constables both on the Queensland and NSW side so it could be possible we could jointly man it,” he said.
Taking a mental toll
Northern Rivers Stroud Homes director Matt Lowson lives in Burleigh Heads but his office is in Tweed Heads.
“Mentally, we are starting to see the cracks. Financially it’s the same. I can’t plan for this, that’s the biggest thing,” the builder said.
“If you’re doing business properly you should be able to plan how long things take, what costs are involved. We simply don’t know so it’s going to force some pretty radical decisions on the livelihood of a lot of people.”
Mr Lowson said the construction industry “keeps the economy alive” and vaccines should be rolled out sooner.
Stonemason Cole Albrecht’s Currumbin-based business has 15 employees, of which 10 live south of the border.
“We should be having the best week we’ve ever had in business this week and it’s just dead stopped,” he said.