Breaking events in Washington tempted me to change course, but when wise people like Barack Obama and Jacinda Ardern have already had their say, I’m staying with today’s topic.
Before Covid-19, restrictions at Australian border crossings were limited to bio-security controls, primarily on carrying fresh fruit and vegetables and plant materials from one State to another.
Travellers, particularly those who take their households with them (camper trailers, caravans and RVs), should download this detailed booklet.
You’d be as surprised as I was to learn of the many items banned in particular states. The objective is to prevent the spread of pests like fruit fly and plant diseases such as banana bunchy top virus, potato cyst nematode or grape phyloxera.
Pests, diseases and weeds can be spread from one part of Australia to another through the movement of many items, including plant or plant products, fruit and vegetables, animals or animal products, soil and agricultural machinery.
It is probably dangerous to generalise about what’s OK and what’s not, but transporting honey, bananas, live plants and soil between States is a bit of a no-no. If in doubt, ask. And, if you’ve been working on a farm, make sure your boots are free of imported soil.
I do recall tossing some fresh fruit into a quarantine bin before entering Western Australia, which has some of the strictest bio-security measures in the country. Throwing away perfectly good fruit seemed a small price to pay when you understand the risks.
The reason for the zealotry over honey is probably because WA is the only Australian state relatively free of bee diseases, including European foul brood disease (a bee killer). So, that jar of raw honey you bought at a market in country Victoria should be binned at the border, in case there are spores lurking in the untreated honey.
My point is that fair-minded Australians would probably do the right thing to help States safeguard agricultural industries against imported diseases.
So why then are people trying to subvert the border controls imposed to stop the spread of Coronavirus?
Before Christmas, Queensland police turned away more than 100 people who attempted to travel into the State from NSW virus hot spots. Police had ramped up border security on the State’s road crossings and increased compliance checks on travellers undergoing home quarantine.
Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler told the ABC that 57 vehicles containing 115 people had so far been turned around at the Queensland-New South Wales border since the restrictions were reimposed.
“People who are trying to game the system — we will catch you,” he said.
This week Queensland police commissioner Katarina Carroll branded a tweet by conservative lobbyist Lyle Sheldon as a waste of police resources.
Mr Sheldon posted a tweet, which he later said was meant as a joke, about his “sneaky run across the border and back” and “avoided the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] virus police” in the process.
Police visited Mr Sheldon’s home to question him about the tweet (about his beach run from Coolangatta to Point Danger and back), and left soon after.
The Brisbane Times quoted Commissioner Carroll, who said the tweet was “disappointing” because it involved valuable resources to investigate and clear Mr Shelton.
“He can cross the border because I understand he has a G-Pass. So it was just a funny tweet that, in the end, all it did was take away resources that needed to be in other places.”
Bees in a bottle aside, there have been serious attempts throughout 2020 by people determined to defy Queensland’s border rules. The border has been closed since mid-March, (albeit with a brief re-opening), allowing access only to people with border exemption passes.
Between March and the end of September, Queensland police issued fines totalling $3.5 million to 2,296 people. Fines averaging $1,500 were imposed for breaching a range of Covid-security health directions.
Gold Coast lawyer Bill Potts told 9News it was not surprising that so few people had paid their fines.
“The reality is if you’re prepared to breach the laws there for public safety and the health of the community, you’re exactly the person who won’t pay a fine.“
Commissioner Carroll said “quite a high percentage” of people are also failing to pay their bills for hotel quarantine.
Under Queensland’s COVID regulations, people generate a SPER (State Penalties Enforcement Registry) debt if they do not pay their fines. These will be added to the latest tally, which is significant. According to Queensland Treasury, 1.32 million people owing $376 million are paying off their fines through a repayment arrangement or unpaid community service.
There is also the case of the so-called ‘Logan Trio’, three women who allegedly lied on their Covid paperwork to avoid quarantine after entering Queensland from a Melbourne hotspot. The three have been charged with fraud, with their case set to be heard on January 20.
Meanwhile, many citizens will have found themselves stranded on the wrong side of the border. As it stands, Victorians who have been visiting Queensland for Christmas are able to return to Victoria by a direct flight between Queensland and Melbourne. I should add that if they were still in Melbourne on December 21 they have to be Covid-tested and wait for a negative result before flying home.
For those who came by road, the options are limited, as they cannot drive via New South Wales without applying for a border exemption and risking an expensive hotel quarantine stay on arrival. The alternative is a sprawling detour by road via Camooweal, the Northern Territory and South Australia (to Adelaide) then to Melbourne. The distance is about 5,100kms, compared with 1,766 direct Brisbane to Melbourne by road. Or the 4WD short-cut via Birdsville to Adelaide. Bear in mind there is paperwork involved at all border crossings and rules can change overnight.
These are pesky (and expensive) inconveniences, but where we would you rather be? Our daily cases are considerably less than 1% of those reported in England, the US, Brazil, India, Mexico and dozens of other countries.
Many of us have friends or relatives in England where the new strain of Coronavirus is spiralling out of control. The severe lockdown is at odds with border controls during the first six months of the pandemic, when Brits routinely took holidays to the continent. Non-essential travel between England and Europe has been banned since late October,
Meanwhile, Greater Brisbane is going into a three day lockdown from 6pm tonight to curb the spread of the mutant UK strain. While there was only one new locally acquired case in the past 24 hours (Queensland), New South Wales has 196 active cases including 6 acquired overseas. Victoria has 38 cases (which may explain why they are keeping the border closed to NSW).
Obviously this is a fast-moving story, but we should try to keep up with the news, even when we think we are ‘safe’; for example, this week’s discovery of Coronavirus traces in sewage at locations including Warwick and Stanthorpe.
I read about that in Australia’s first new independent regional daily since 1955, the Warwick-based Daily Journal. The first edition on Monday contained a Covid update, including a checklist of conditions prior to entering the State.
All that aside, if you are coming into Queensland from elsewhere, the entire state is a biosecurity zone for bananas, grape plants, mangoes and sugarcane.
But you knew that, eh?