News

Cross-border challenges

By Cobram Courier

NSW residents are unable to access essential mental health services south of the border due to their postcode, Victorian cross-border commissioner Luke Wilson has said.

The anomaly was nothing new to people who had needed help in the past, however Mr Wilson said it was a nonsensical situation which affected people the length of the Victorian/NSW border.

Stepping in to the role about six months ago, Mr Wilson has been up and down the length of the Murray, as well as along Victoria’s straight line borders, discussing issues affecting border towns.

He said a common thread on the border were the differences around access to mental health services.

‘‘It is opposed to other hospital services where it’s reasonably fluid. In line with practice, (NSW residents seeking mental health support are) then directed to places such as Wagga Wagga,’’ he said.

‘‘When other services don’t have that barrier it often doesn’t make sense.

‘‘And that’s something we’re often saying to people. Sometimes there may be long stories as to why these differences exist but it doesn’t make them sensible and it doesn’t make them fair.’’

Mr Wilson’s role covers more than 2500km of land borders and also incorporates southern Victorian borders — from Mallacoota to Portland.

‘‘There are a few issues that are very local but there are some very common threads, including the very well-known ones around business licensing — businesses and tradespeople needing two tickets to operate on both sides and there is also an issue around access to TAFE which is universal,’’ Mr Wilson said.

‘‘And at best that can be a nuisance but at times it can become a real barrier.’’

Mr Wilson said while there was a lengthy wait for these types of legislative issues, some of the more difficult issues to navigate were often around practice differences.

‘‘If you have to go and change an act, that takes an amount of time, it’s not necessarily hard but there is a process you go through,’’ he said.

‘‘A lot more of the issues are actually practice differences. People often characterise them as being ‘we have to do this because of the rules’ but one of my tasks is to look under the bonnet of each issue and the first question is often ‘where is that rule?’

‘‘And quite often you find there isn’t a rule, it’s simply a practice that people have adopted for whatever reason.’’

Mr Wilson said the phenomenon was not exclusive to any border towns and often the solution was to bring two parties together to discuss a plan.

‘‘And it doesn’t necessarily take long to start that process but when it’s a hard-wired behaviour, to achieve it can take some time,’’ he said.

While there have been no official costings for the economic impact of cross-border differences, Mr Wilson said they would likely be extensive — especially incorporating socio-economic costs.

‘‘When it comes into social services that can get harder to quantify but we still think there are some opportunities to do that so we will ask that back.

‘‘Both myself and my NSW counterpart James McTavish are very interested in getting those hard numbers because governments and departments should ask for that.’’

●From August the full list of issues raised will be available via rdv.vic.gov.au/about-rdv/cross-border-commissioner To contact the commissioner go to crossborder.vic.gov.au or write to the commissioner at PO Box 1332, Wodonga, 3689.