Echuca-Moama residents have again been plunged into uncertainty with strict and differing state government ruling on both sides of the Murray River forcing many businesses to shut their doors.
Key stakeholders across the Twin Towns are urging both the Victorian and NSW governments to 'Turn the Bubble Green' in an effort to live as one community after 18 months of division.
Echuca Moama Tourism chief executive Kathryn Mackenzie has heard first-hand the impact the continues border closures have had on tourism operators in the community.
"How do operators keep going?" she said. "One operator said to me that this is the last straw.
"We've been given no end date, the resilience has gone and they feel so locked in with no hope of getting anyone to come back to their business.
The governments need to turn the bubble green, it allows us to live freely and businesses to open under Victorian restrictions.Kathryn Mackenzie
Residents in the Victoria-NSW border bubble can only enter (or return home to) Victoria without a permit if they are travelling for one of 10 following permitted reasons:
- Necessary goods and services, including medical care and getting a COVID-19 test
- Care and compassionate reasons
- Paid or voluntary work (including for charitable and religious purposes)
- Education (including childcare and early childhood services)
- Getting a COVID-19 vaccination
- Sport and exercise at a sporting club or at a sport or physical recreation facility (excluding alpine resorts)
- Visiting an intimate partner
- Moving house, inspecting a property or attending an auction
- Driving someone who cannot drive themselves for one of the above reasons
- Travelling between places in Victoria where it is easier to travel through NSW
People crossing the border to enter Victoria for one of the permitted reasons must also not travel further than reasonably necessary to undertake essential activities.
The permit system has been introduced on top of high visibility of Victorian police patrolling the border which found an overall compliance rate of 98.9 per cent.
"Now it feels so prescriptive, it feels like we as a community have lost our freedom," Ms Mackenzie said.
"We're one town, one community. To segregate us along the river is so hard. It's worse than lockdown."
The Murray region has been impacted for 42 weeks to date by restrictions and lockdowns since the beginning of the pandemic and the Tourism Research Australia data for the year ending March 2021 paints a very grim picture.
Total visitors was down by 2.8 million in the Murray region with a loss of $1 billion in direct visitor expenditure. Total visitor nights were down by 4.5 million and there was a loss of 10,000 jobs based on direct expenditure.
Murray Regional Tourism estimated that for July 2021 the region experienced a loss of 498,000 visitors due to the lockdown measures resulting in an estimated loss of $330 million in visitor spend.
IN OTHER NEWS:
"Due to border closures and movement restrictions, the subsequent impact to visitor expenditure for the Murray region over the 16-month period of the pandemic is estimated at a loss of between $2.27 billion and $2.93 billion in visitor spend," she said.
"Based on the loss of visitor expenditure, it is estimated that between 34,100 and 44,000 tourism-related jobs in the Murray region were disrupted during this period.
"We are urging both governments to work collaboratively to develop a sustainable long- term solution and future pathway to ensure the Murray region can welcome visitors safely and rebuild jobs for this critical sector."
Murray River Council has invited other councils along the border to join them in the advocacy initiative and has been working closely with Murray Regional Tourism Board to highlight the full economic hit the region has taken.
Mayor Chris Bilkey said council was throwing its full efforts into working with governments to come up with sustainable, longer-term solutions for border communities in this new COVID-era.
"This is about putting forward economic data and stories to get the conversation to the table," he said.
"Whilst we resolved to allocate money towards this public push, we are hopeful that any funds will predominately be used towards a recovery campaign for our area when we reopen.
"This is where we need to start the conversations; let's look at the data, let's create risk profiles and let's come up with policy that more accurately takes these things into account."
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