Victorians ‘abused’ in SA border towns as tensions flare amid confusion over travel

Community tensions have broken out along South Australia’s border with Victoria, with many local residents and essential travellers confused by changes to travel arrangements amid the worsening coronavirus situation in Melbourne.

Some locals in the region have reported witnessing outbursts of abuse and vandalism aimed at Victorian travellers who have legitimately crossed into South Australian towns.

A new online pre-approval process for incoming visitors was introduced today, but some residents say it has led to more, not less, confusion.

Expectant mother Elise Dunwell — who lives in the small Victorian town of Nelson near the SA border — has been crossing into SA to see her doctor.

“Being quite pregnant I need that option to go across,” she said.

“Our essential services, our shopping and our medical services and all that are usually in Mount Gambier.

Expectant mother Elise Dunwell is a resident of the Victorian town of Nelson.
Elise Dunwell needs access to medical services in Mount Gambier.(ABC News: Isadora Bogle)

Ms Dunwell said she had previously been turned around at the border while trying to visit family, and her experiences had so far been mixed.

“I’ve had two different exemptions given to me, which I haven’t had an issue with,” she said.

“But, again, every time you cross over, it’s a different story as to ‘why are you going over, where has this exemption come from?’

“There is still confusion now … I guess we’ll find out when we go to cross over this week.”

Another resident, Sally, from SA’s South East, told ABC Radio Adelaide she was also aware of antagonisms between locals from both sides of the border.

“We have cross-border community — we have friends who live only moments across the border, who shop locally in Mount Gambier or Naracoorte or other communities,” she said.

“We are citizens of one country, we don’t live our lives within state boundaries.”

Victoria ‘so much more than Melbourne’

Police patrols and checkpoints in SA’s South East have been boosted in recent days, while a plan to allow unrestricted travel into the state by July 20 was yesterday scrapped because of the risk posed by Victoria’s outbreaks.

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SA Premier Steven Marshall announced on Tuesday the border reopening would be delayed.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens acknowledged there had been confusion about the new online pre-approval process, but said existing exemptions would remain valid.

Commissioner Stevens said more than 4,000 applications had so far been submitted for pre-approval to travel.

Darryl Lewis, who runs the pub in Murrayville about 25 kilometres from the SA border, said different rules should apply for those in regional Victoria.

He and others in Murrayville have had to obtain exemption permits to enter SA because their nearest fuel station is at Pinnaroo.

“The police are doing a good job at the border — they’re sending people back who are trying to get through and going to South Australia without any good reason,” he said.

Mr Lewis said people in the Victorian Mallee were “a bit wary of who is coming” from Melbourne, but most believed they should be able to enter South Australia because western Victoria remains free of COVID-19.

“We’ve served our time. We’re doing the right thing.

“We really need that border open, obviously, but I can understand why it’s not going to be.”

Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie also voiced concerns over the border situation, saying regional Victorians should not be penalised for COVID-19 case spikes in Melbourne.

Senator McKenzie is mid sentence, wearing a white blazer and has her hair pulled back.
Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie said regional Victorians are being penalised for COVID-19 spikes in Melbourne.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Despite quarantine requirements, she said people from South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland were all welcome to visit regional Victoria and support its local tourism operators.

“Regional Victorians have done the right thing and are not seeing a second wave or a spike in COVID cases.

“Those regional small businesses and tourism operators have been suffering extreme economic impacts — not just of COVID-19, but bushfires and drought.”

Travel bubble suggested

While non-essential travellers from Melbourne will have to quarantine if they head to Adelaide until restrictions are eased, some have raised the idea of a travel bubble between SA and western Victoria.

“Areas close to the border that haven’t had a recorded outbreak in a long period may get exemptions,” District Council of Grant mayor Richard Sage said.

“That’s probably something that a lot of people along the Victorian border would like to see happen.”

A police officer talks to a driver through the window of a car travelling into Mount Gambier from Victoria.
A police checkpoint has been operating at Mount Gambier near the Victorian border.(ABC South East SA: Isadora Bogle)

Mr Sage said his community, around Mount Gambier and along the SA-Victoria border, included “a lot of businesses that operate on both sides”.

“We’ve got people — nurses and teachers — who live across the border in Victoria and travel into South Australia … forestry workers coming back and forth every day,” he said.

SA Road Transport Association executive officer Steve Shearer said that truck drivers and trucking companies had not been properly consulted regarding how the pre-approval process would be implemented.

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Steve Shearer said drivers had been left in the lurch by the pre-approval process.(ABC News)

Mr Shearer said drivers who had been able to cross the borders as essential workers for the past four months of the pandemic would now have to “jump through hoops” to get into SA, because of the new online pre-approval requirement.

“We have no problem with the Government making decisions that they need to make to keep us safe,” he said.

“The problem is that with barely seven hours’ detailed notice, all the truck drivers — and about 2,000 trucks will come across the border at Bordertown today, it’s about 2,000 a day — those drivers have to apply in advance, with an up to 72-hour turnaround time to get approval as an essential traveller.”

Mr Shearer warned of long queues of trucks, at Victorian border crossings, waiting to go through the approvals process.