Farming communities protest bridge closures

Border communities cut off from local services by bridge closures

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Residents gathered at the Gonn/Murrabit bridge yesterday afternoon to voice their concerns. The bridge has been locked due to the NSW/Victoria border closure. Photo supplied.

Residents gathered at the Gonn/Murrabit bridge yesterday afternoon to voice their concerns. The bridge has been locked due to the NSW/Victoria border closure. Photo supplied.

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Access to health services concerns residents with bridges locked or barricaded.

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The NSW border closure has seen small, rural communities along the Murray River cut off from their businesses, properties and services, with bridges closed by locked gates or concrete bollards.

Lachlan Monk lives 300 metres from the border in Gonn, NSW, but his engineering and farm maintenance business is located around two kilometres away in Murrabit, Victoria.

He said since they locked the Gonn/Murrabit bridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning, his commute has gone from a couple of kilometres to a 110km round trip through Barham.

"It's basically cut my business in half, we work with farmers on both sides of the border," Mr Monk said.

"At the moment I'm not entitled to any compensation, even though we're classed as an essential business, we keep farmers farming because we fix their equipment when they break down."

However, it's his family who are his biggest concern.

"Our 15-month-old daughter had a seizure about five weeks ago and was semi-conscious before the ambulance arrived. The ambulance went over that bridge to get her to hospital," he said.

He said they had been told ambulance drivers would carry a key to the bridge, but they would still be slowed down by the time it took to unlock bridge's two gates.

Mr Monk's 84-year-old grandfather who lives on the NSW side has also been impacted as he gets his supplies and local paper from across the border at Murrabit.

Mr Monk said the permit process for crossing the border was ludicrous.

"The permit system's ridiculous, I actually got approved for my dog Boof," Mr Monk said.

"People were having trouble with the application so I had another go at it and used Boof's name and he was approved instantly.

"If they're not checking your licence any Joe Blow could get through."

Mr Monk and around 20 other residents impacted joined Murray MP Helen Dalton at the bridge yesterday afternoon to voice their concerns.

Mrs Dalton said police hope the Gonn/Murrabit Bridge will reopen tomorrow from 8am to 4pm.

She also said the Koraleigh/Nyah bridge, where residents gathered to protest its closure this morning, would be opened at some point tomorrow.

Concrete bollards have been used to block bridges in the Upper Murray region. Photo supplied.

Concrete bollards have been used to block bridges in the Upper Murray region. Photo supplied.

Concrete bollards create concern 

Meanwhile, in the Upper Murray, both Tintaldra and Towong bridges were shut off by concrete bollards in what's been described as a "hard closure."

Upper Murray Business Incorporated chairperson Jo Mackinnon said the concrete meant access for emergency services was cut off.

"It discriminates against us as a rural community," Mrs Mackinnon said.

"It only takes one farm accident or one person to have a heart attack to make it the biggest disaster that the ambulance couldn't get through."

Jo Beirs is 39 weeks pregnant and lives just across from Tintaldra on the NSW side of the border. She will need to travel to Wodonga to have her baby, the bridge closure either sending her on a 50km detour or via a 30km pot-hole filled dirt road.

Ms Beirs agreed that the concrete bollards preventing emergency services from accessing their side of the border was the biggest issue for their community.

"It means that there's significantly prolonged emergency response times for us, and we are already in an isolated area with limited resources," Ms Beirs said.

"We actually have Ambulance Victoria service us, they're the first point of call."

Ms Mackinnon said one of the most frustrating aspects for local residents however, was the lack of communication.

She said there was not even road closure signs before the Tooma bridge so people didn't know it was shut until they got there.

Self-isolation rule removed for essential services 

In some good news for the agriculture and freight industries, the requirement for essential workers crossing the border to self-isolate for 14 days has been removed, with an additional permit made available to essential workers from yesterday afternoon.

Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) chief executive Simon O'Hara said the self-isolation rule was not going to work for the industry and would "cripple freight in this country."

Mr O'Hara said as a whole they had found the border closure a reasonably rushed process.

"We were assured up until 9pm on Tuesday night that it would be a wave through for trucks, then we were told that wouldn't be the case there would be a permit in place," Mr O'Hara said.

"At 11.15pm that night there was finally functionality (on the Service NSW website) and people could access the permit application, 15 minutes before the border closed."

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