Canberra residents remain trapped on the Victorian border after the New South Wales government “reneged” on an agreement to allow them to pass through southern parts of the state to return home, and despite offers to dispatch Australian Capital Territory police to escort them back.
ACT residents have now been on the Victoria-NSW border for four days, still without any clear indication of when, or if, they will be allowed to pass through southern NSW to return home.
The residents were initially granted permits by the ACT and NSW governments to transit through the state to get to Canberra on Friday.
But police blocked them at the border due to a last-minute change to NSW travel restrictions the night prior – made without any real notice – requiring those travelling to NSW from Victoria to fly through Sydney airport and enter self-funded quarantine there.
The ACT government has since made urgent representations to NSW and prime minister Scott Morrison, trying to find a way for the residents to get past the border. That has included offers from the ACT to send police three hours south to the border and escort the residents back home to Canberra.
On Saturday, the trapped residents received an email from the office of the ACT’s chief health officer, advising them that NSW had cleared them to pass through the state on Tuesday morning.
“We have now been advised that the NSW government will allow road transit from Victoria to the ACT for residents with existing exemption approvals from the ACT,” the email read.
“If you wish to enter the ACT by road/car, you must cross the border prior to 12.00 midday on Tuesday 11 August 2020.”
But that advice was almost immediately rescinded.
Within four hours, residents received another email from the ACT’s chief health officer saying “we have received further advice that NSW is still considering its position on issuing of transit permits”.
“Please note that the chief minister has put the case directly and personally to the NSW premier for vehicles to be escorted directly to the ACT by ACT police.”
Barr said on Twitter that NSW would again review its position on Monday.
No news from NSW Government since late yesterday. We have put forward proposals to manage the transit through NSW safely. What they said yesterday was that the situation will be reviewed again today.— Andrew Barr MLA (@ABarrMLA) August 9, 2020
Anne Cahill Lambert, a health worker, is one of those trapped at the border. She has been told there are about 100 people in the same situation.
“I am at the end of my tether now. And I’m in a relatively good space, other people are sleeping in cars,” she told the Guardian on Monday.
Cahill Lambert said ACT health authorities contacted her last night, saying they still hadn’t had a response from NSW. She says no one appears to be in charge of the situation.
“If someone was in charge they’d realise you don’t treat human beings like this, like commodities at the border,” she said. “That’s what we’ve lost, the care and compassion.”
A second resident, who asked not to be named due to his role with the federal government, said the ACT authorities had been providing regular updates, but that “the original agreement reached on Saturday … has definitely been reneged on”.
“NSW enacted a hard border and revoked permits without notice and without announcement,” he said. “At least Queensland gave everyone three or four days’ notice. Everyone in our situation had valid permits that were pulled from us without announcement and we now have nowhere to go.”