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Council works to ease border burden

Thursday 30 July 2020
New data confirms Albury Wodonga’s economy is taking a heavy hit from the latest tighter border controls and in response Council is working closely with governments and industry on a proposal to ease the pressure while also minimising the risk of COVID-19 spreading.

Analysis of the closure on the Albury Wodonga Regional Economic Zone (REZ) - which is made up of the Albury, Wodonga, Greater Hume, Federation, Indigo and Towong local government areas – shows between four and five per cent has been added to the zone’s unemployment rate, based on 2016 data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics.

This is because many people who live in areas beyond the so-called ‘border bubble’ and are not classified as critical services, are effectively unable to go to work because they cannot cross the border without having to self-isolate for 14 days.

Also, research conducted with Business NSW and banking institutions has given early anecdotal information of significant revenue losses of between 30 and 50 per cent for cross-border businesses, particularly those in the retail, food, accommodation and tourism sectors.

While the councils and other agencies are highly supportive of government measures to protect the community from COVID-19, AlburyCity believes changes are needed now to reduce the significant economic impact on our REZ and community.

To that end, our Mayor Kevin Mack and I have this week written to the NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, and the Minister for Finance and Small Business, Damien Tudehope, to express our concerns at the significant disadvantage the closure has placed on our community.

The Mayor and I have explained the extent of the problems to the Ministers and proposed three solutions designed to get our region safely back to work:

*Amend the Public Health Order to allow those unable to work from home to return to their workplaces
*Provide a cross-border support grant to ease the financial strain on struggling businesses
*Implement high-level data sharing to help us understand the full impact of the border restrictions on our REZ

We understand the enormous challenges governments are facing to keep communities safe and economies functioning, but the border closure is a special case that is hurting our region more than most, so we look forward to discussing with the Ministers and other government representatives how our proposals could be made to work.

We were grateful for the opportunity to meet the Treasurer via teleconference last week at which he recognised the extent of the challenges we all face, and stressed the importance of public health as a priority, followed by jobs and the economy.

In a separate meeting with Mr Tudehope we took the opportunity to indicate that our REZ is one of the hardest-hit areas in Australia and were pleased that he committed to raising our concerns and advocate for changes to the permit system with the NSW Cabinet.

In the meantime, we are continuing to work with Business NSW and the other REZ Councils to further investigate the effects of the border closure. This work includes the development of a survey to quantify the impact with more than 1,000 local businesses already taking part.

Although a long road to recovery lies ahead, we are heartened by the positivity and resilience of our community through these unprecedented challenges. By working together, and with the support of government, we look forward to getting our community fully back to work, and embracing the opportunities for growth that will undoubtedly come when the COVID-19 threat passes.

While we work towards those goals, please continue to support local businesses as best you can, closely follow health guidelines, and care for fellow community members who might be doing it tough.

In this way, we can overcome the challenges that lie before us and emerge even stronger, more resilient and adaptable than ever before.