ABC SYDNEY BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 12 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECT: Canberrans stuck at the NSW/Victoria border.
ROBBIE BUCK, HOST: We’re going to take you to the New South Wales/Victoria border now. We have been talking about New South Wales travellers being stuck in Victoria, Wendy - a caller or texted - her tale of making a mercy dash because her mum was dying and then not being able to get back into New South Wales we’ve spoken about. But spare thought for a lot of the ACT residents who are stuck on the New South Wales/Victorian border, and they've been there for the last six days. They've been caught up in this rule change by the state government, requiring people traveling from Victoria to fly through the Sydney Airport before going to self funded quarantine. And Dr Andrew Leigh, who's the federal Member for Fenner in the ACT, happens to be one of those stuck there. Morning, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: G’day, Robbie. Just to correct you, I’m not stuck there. I'm just trying to get my constituents back here.
WENDY HARMER, HOST: There's about 100 of them, I believe, Andrew.
LEIGH: It's a huge number, Wendy, and they're stuck in a sort of Kafka-esque nightmare where the ACT Government would be happy to go to the border with a couple of police cars and escort everyone back. It’s a three and a half hour drive, no one needs to stop, just a full tank of fuel and they’d go straight through. And what the New South Wales Government is saying instead is they should drive to Melbourne airport, abandon their cars, fly to Sydney, go into quarantine and then make their way back to Canberra. They’d endanger themselves and it'd come at a huge expense. Instead, they can come through New South Wales - endangering absolutely no one - and be back home. I just can't see what the New South Wales Government's problem is.
BUCK: Have they given you any rationale though for turning down that offer? Is it just, it is because it sets a precedent? What's what's the justification behind it?
LEIGH: None at all, Robbie. I mean, Andrew Barr the Chief Minister has been working hard on this. My colleague Alicia Payne has written to the Prime Minister. We're just scratching our heads. I mean, it's a bit like being bailed up by a bouncer with one of these bizarre rules at a nightclub, where you’re just kind of saying ‘you don't understand’. It’s very, very simple. Some of these people are elderly. They've been stuck in in these Wodonga hotel rooms for the best part of the last week. And they’ve been going to Melbourne not for some sort of lackadaisical holiday, but because they had relatives who were dying, because they needed to attend a funeral. They just need to get back home to Canberra. It not difficult. And you know, frankly, you look at the way in which the New South Wales Government has handled other issues like the Ruby Princess and it really does make you wonder where their priorities are.
HARMER: I know you say people are staying in hotel rooms in Wodonga, but there are tales of people in their cars as well.
LEIGH: That’s absolutely right, Wendy. I mean, nobody's subsidising their accommodation there and so some people are sleeping in their cars. The residents of Wodonga are reaching out to them to help them, but everyone's just bemused by this. They think it's frankly bizarre that the New South Wales Government thinks there’s somehow a coronavirus risk from a group of cars driving down the Hume and Barton Highways to get back home. There just isn’t. The ACT Government is happy to manage the security concerns around this. It can be done safely. It's been done for Victorian MPs coming into self quarantine ahead of the parliamentary sitting that starts on the 24th of August. So the New South Wales Government has already allowed people like Tim Wilson, a Liberal MP, to come through, but somehow they won’t allow Canberrans who've gone down to Victoria to be there at a funeral.
HARMER: You pick Tim Wilson there for a very good reason, I'm thinking, Andrew. But there must be tales of people who are really in extremes here. Are you're getting very distressed calls?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Ross and Helen Muir are a couple who went down to Victoria to look after Ross's dying father and then attend the funeral. They've done exactly what any of us would do in those circumstances. Of course you'd be there at your dad's bedside, and the idea that Ross and Helen should now be asked to endanger themselves by going to Melbourne airport, rather than taking an approach of driving through New South Wales endangering no-one, just makes no sense whatsoever. I don't know which bureaucratic nightmare the New South Wales Premier is stuck in, but she needs to break out of it today.
BUCK: How do you see this impasse being broken though? If the residents don't want to go back to Melbourne, and obviously they don't and I get the rationale for not doing it, but if New South Wales Health say ‘you're not coming through’ what's going to happen?
LEIGH: New South Wales Health needs to change its view. There is absolutely no danger to anyone in New South Wales from a group of cars traveling at 110 kilometres an hour down the Hume Highway.
HARMER: And you’ve even said that we could account for a toilet break if you had a bit of a convoy going.
LEIGH: That’s right. The ACT Government haseven gone so far as to say if someone can't cross their legs for three and a half hours, thenthey'll organise a stop. They're putting it four kilometres away from the Dog on the Tuckerbox. You know - middle of nowhere. There's plenty of these spots along the Hume, they've identified one of the one of those, just in case someone needs to take a leak on the way back. There is zero risk to NSW communities. There is a significant risk to these ACT residents if they're forced to go to Melbourne, abandon their cars and fly to Sydney.
HARMER: [laughter] I'm going to say Andrew, if nothing else, the fact that you said take a leak there has been worth this-
BUCK: It’s a compelling argument, and you've really put the cherry on top there.
LEIGH: What can I say? I’m the father of three boys.
BUCK: We’ll keep abreast of this of course, and see where it goes. But yes, I can understand the frustration.
HARMER: Absolutely, can understand.
BUCK: Thanks, Andrew.
LEIGH: Some things in politics are hard. This isn’t one of them.
BUCK: Dr Andrew Leigh. He’s the federal Member for Fenner in the ACT.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.