'Hugely challenging': ACT border closure would be complex

ACT-NSW border closure 'more complex' than Victorian border towns

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Bungendore IGA assistant store manager Aiden Shand and deli assistant Jacqueline Alferink. Picture: Karleen Minney

Bungendore IGA assistant store manager Aiden Shand and deli assistant Jacqueline Alferink. Picture: Karleen Minney

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Thousands of workers and students cross the border every day but the ACT government says closing it would be a last resort.

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For thousands of Canberrans and NSW residents, an open ACT border is essential to accessing basic services and attending work and school.

But the prospect of ballooning coronavirus case numbers in Sydney has turned minds to the possibility of Canberra being cut off from the state.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says any border closure would be an absolute last resort but in the current climate she's learned to never say never. Initial planning into how it would work has taken place.

Yass Valley Council Mayor Rowena Abbey said more than 3000 commuted to the ACT for work and up to 800 for school.

"It's not just a lot of paperwork, it's a lot of practical issues that come into play," Ms Abbey said.

Ms Abbey said she hadn't had a conversation with ACT or NSW governments on a potential border closure yet.

"If there was a major breakout on either side of that border you would definitely have to have a conversation about whether that was a practical outcome to try to contain it," she said.

"If something did suddenly escalate, we'll pick up the phones and have those robust conversations about next steps and how to slow it and how to contain it."

To Canberra's east, about 60 per cent of the Queanbeyan-Palerang region workforce commute to the ACT and thousands more Canberrans cross into NSW daily.

Royal Hotel owner Anthony McDonald is one of thousands of Canberrans who cross the border daily for work.

A closed border would not only make his commute harder but impact business.

"We're seeing a lot of Canberra patrons here," he said. "If it happens it would be devastating but you've got to be realistic about it and it just may."

Ms Abbey said the intricacies and practicalities of shutting the well-travelled border roads would be extensive.

"If you have an accident, can you get into the ACT because that's the only hospital that's open?" she said.

"A doctor needing to attend an emergency, does he have to get a permit to cross the border? The fact those are already being discussed and worked through on the Victorian/NSW border, they would be helpful in the conversations to say, this is how it's worked here."

Bungendore IGA manager Katrina Trudinger said the town had remained positive but cautious throughout the pandemic. "It's taken away a lot of negativity."

Ms Trudinger said there was a renewed sense of community and customers had shown more kindness to staff.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the government was planning for a number of scenarios to respond quickly to any outbreak.

"There has been initial planning on what resources and processes would be required should we need to implement border restrictions between ACT and NSW," she said.

"As an island within NSW, a border closure for the ACT would be hugely challenging to implement and maintain."

Ms Stephen-Smith said the closure of borders would be a last resort and plenty of notice would be given to ACT residents and those in the surrounding region.

She said while the ACT government had been in regular contact with NSW, the issue of border closures had not been discussed in specific detail.

"However, we would of course work closely and collaboratively with NSW and surrounding local governments should this ever be required," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Australian Medical Association ACT president Antonio Di Dio was optimistic NSW would be able to control the Sydney outbreak.

While he didn't believe border restrictions were currently necessary, he said people should reassess the need for any travel outside of Canberra.

The story 'Hugely challenging': ACT border closure would be complex first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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