After almost five months with a line drawn between Albury and Wodonga the reopening of the border will mark what we all hope will be a major turning point and a signpost to a bright and productive 2021.
For many of us, the reopening will at last allow for a reunion with loved ones in Melbourne or other areas locked out of the ‘border bubble’. For others, it will offer hope to struggling businesses and an opportunity to welcome back the tourists who underpin our visitor economy.
While the closure has played a key role in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it has also undeniably come at a significant cost in human and economic terms.
Economic modelling showed that at their height, the border restrictions added between four and five percent to the unemployment rate for our Regional Economic Zone, which is made up of the Albury, Wodonga, Greater Hume, Federation and Indigo local government areas, with the addition of Towong Shire which is intrinsically linked to our region.
With more than 14,500 local people crossing the border each day for work alone (in pre-closure times), the initial restrictions meant that thousands of people were simply unable to get to work. Added to that, many commuters and cross-border business operators faced long delays in trying to cross from one side of the Murray to the other. This is not to mention those who cross for school, tertiary study, medical care and other services, or to visit loved ones.
Although we appreciate the NSW Government’s assistance in refining the rules to make the transition easier as the closure continued, we can all agree that once again having a free and open border is the oil that’s needed to make the machinery of our economy run smoothly. Now, with that machinery set to accelerate, we can look forward to better times in what we hope will be a COVID-safe environment.
In encouraging signs, we’re also seeing a transition to a normal ‘work from the workplace’ situation with a growing number people returning to offices, factories, stores and other worksites.
At AlburyCity, we’re continuing a migration of our people back to the workplace, after a successful work-from-home regime that enabled many of our team members to continue to work productively for the city during a challenging time.
When the COVID outbreak first hit, we moved quickly to ensure the vast majority of our people remained in productive work – albeit in different circumstances – so that we could continue to provide the services our community needs to function effectively.
Like most organisations, we learned to adapt. While we continued to build and maintain roads and drains, manage our waste, care for our public places and perform all of the many other tasks needed to service the city, we also kept our administrative and planning functions operating smoothly so that we could support our community through the challenges of lockdowns and onwards towards full recovery.
This adaptability and forward thinking was mirrored across our community, with our innovative business community finding new ways of doing things and keeping as many people in work as possible. Although our community was among the hardest hit by border restrictions, it’s a testament to the agility of our businesses that we now find ourselves in a position to fight back from the worst economic shock in generations.
Of course, a hard road still lies ahead for some, which is why it’s critical that we all work together to support each other.
We can all make a difference by supporting local traders, as seen for example, in the Go Local First campaign. Even a small expenditure at a locally owned business can make a big difference so please do continue to support the local economy and help us all further along the road to recovery.
We’ve always been a united and supportive community through good times and bad, and now that the light at the end of the COVID tunnel is becoming brighter, we can expect that community spirit to continue to shine on the path ahead to what will hopefully be better times for us all.