New border crossing plans for travellers
A NEW border crossing system will be trialled in Goondiwindi within the next week in an attempt to shorten the interstate commute for essential workers.
Earlier this month, almost all entrances along the Queensland-NSW border were closed in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and those remaining open require a permit to cross and are heavily patrolled by police.
For farmer Simon Walker, who lives near Boomi in northern NSW but has farming land in Talwood just on the Queensland side of the border, the border restrictions have significantly impacted his livelihood.
"It used to take us about an hour to get to the Queensland property by vehicle, but now we have to divert through Goondiwindi, which takes about two and a half hours," Mr Walker said.
"We don't really have a base or anything there, and you used to be able to just duck home and grab something, but now it takes about a day."
However, a trial by Goondiwindi Regional Council will see essential workers and travellers allocated a unique code via their smartphone, which will unlock the border's gates and allow them to cross.
Mr Walker said the start of the busy planting season, which will see him making almost-daily trips across the border in both vehicles and heavy machinery, meant the trial for the new border crossing method couldn't come soon enough.
"The main reason we need the trial is we're around the start of the crop cycle, so after a couple of years of drought we're pretty keen to get something in the ground," he said.
"In a normal season, you're going over (to the Queensland property) every day when you're sowing or spraying, and we're looking at the period now where you go almost every day.
Moving machinery will be especially tough - it used to take a few hours each way, and now it's going to take over a day to move tractors and that type of thing."
Goondiwindi Mayor Lawrence Springborg said the trial would run in close collaboration with the Queensland Police Service, and could be implemented more widely if successful.
"This trial will be between the QPS and our council, and is about trying to assist those people who have been significantly impacted by the widespread border closures," Cr Springborg said.
"We believe this will work, and we'll do everything we can to make it work - we believe we have responsible communities living on either side of the border.
If it succeeds, hopefully it will provide a way forward for other councils that have also been affected, so they can apply it more easily to their circumstances."
Cr Springborg said those wishing to participate needed to apply through the council to be deemed eligible, and the trial would need to meet certain criteria before becoming permanent.
"Once we get the process of applications finalised, the first two measures of success will be that people are comfortable with it and it's broadly accepted," Cr Springborg said.
"Also, it needs to keep people healthy and well, maintain the integrity of our border restrictions, as well as give people broader access where they are disadvantaged.
We'll run the trial for as long as is needed to make sure we get it right."
Mr Farmer said while his wife and four school-aged children were now working and learning from home, he was just eager to see steps taken to bring some normalcy back to his daily life.
"For the moment, we have a 'resident near the border' pass, which you just flash as you go through, but it's still hard," he said.
"I understand that you have to deal with this COVID-19, but hopefully they'll be able to get on top of it shortly and we'll be able to use (the new access) as soon as we can."