How did virus-free Sunraysia get tougher rules than Melbourne?

MELBOURNE residents, assuming they don't have coronavirus symptoms or are a contact of a known case, are allowed to go to work.

But if you're a healthy worker in virus-free Cardross you can't make your 20-minute trip through virus-free Mildura to get to work in virus-free Buronga – because you're outside the narrow "border zone".

Melbourne residents needing access to education or health care are able to take the most direct and safest route to their destination.

But if you live in Robinvale, you must take a narrow rural road with unsealed shoulders, adding some 44km to your trip – because the usual road is off-limits to Victorians.

The Hattah-Robinvale Road on Tuesday. Picture: Ben Gross
The Hattah-Robinvale Road on Tuesday. Picture: Ben Gross

Melbourne residents can exercise in their own suburb.

But if you're a rower in Mildura, don't so much as dip a toe in the Murray River – that's crossing the border.

Melbourne residents can pop down to their local shops.

But, pending the details of an exemption announced at late notice, if you lived a little too far out of town at Euston, you faced a 50-minute drive to the Buronga supermarket instead of crossing the bridge into Robinvale – you were drawn outside the zone.

Melbourne business owners in essential industries still have workers.

But if you're a farmer putting fruit on the tables of Australian families, that's determined by which side of a line both you and your seasonal worker is on.

Each of these became realities on Wednesday morning, when the NSW Government's new border restrictions came into effect.

And for people on the ground, who feel they are being disadvantaged because of a stroke of a pen in Sydney, these realities are why NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews need to take a much close look at this week's changes.

Cross-border commissioners in both states need to demonstrate a much clearer understanding of the issues, too.

Of course, Sunraysia may not stay virus-free forever.

Absolutely, precaution and vigilance should be encouraged.

But just because we're in a pandemic, that doesn't exclude us from keeping things in their proper proportion.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has consistently talked about preserving lives and livelihoods.

How do you justify a decision that does neither?

It's probably a stretch to say Mildura and its surrounding towns present a threat to lives at a time when they haven't recorded an active case in more than three months.

Melbourne, and its hundreds of new cases each day, is some 550km away.

Barring people who are able to work from going to work can only damage livelihoods and notably, one day after $20 billion in additional federal stimulus was announced, hurt efforts to restart the economy.

Ironically, the new rules actually throw up their own community safety implications.

Robinvale residents – even, at least initially, schoolchildren – must journey to Mildura using Hattah-Robinvale Road, which is "not up to the standard needed for a high level of commuter traffic", according to Member for Mildura Ali Cupper.

Hattah-Robinvale Road. Picture: Ben Gross
Hattah-Robinvale Road. Picture: Ben Gross
The NSW Government's border zone map did not include much of the Sturt Highway between Euston and Gol Gol.
The NSW Government's border zone map did not include much of the Sturt Highway between Euston and Gol Gol.

Usually, those trips would be taken on the relatively pristine Sturt Highway.

But the NSW Government decided a large stretch of the highway would sit outside its new "border zone" – meaning Victorian residents can't use it, even those from within the zone, even those who have obtained permits.

The border zone has sent us into some kind of twilight zone.