Bus-ting to move the Echuca-Moama border

By Andrew Johnston

THE Echuca-Moama COVID-19 bubble has to be urgently reconstructed before it bursts.

Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh is co-ordinating business and community demands that checkpoints be moved from the Murray River back as far as the Barmah turnoff.

Mr Walsh said the gridlock caused by trying to move so many people through the checkpoint on Meninya Rd was not just paralysing the twin towns it was causing financial damage to businesses and distress among schoolchildren and their families.

He said while the roadblocks were vital, and everyone respected that, the first week — particularly with schools now back — had shown they were simply in the wrong place.

“We have kids stuck on school buses for as many as five or more hours a day — that is beyond unacceptable,” Mr Walsh said.

“Rich River Golf Club marketing and sales manager Paul Lavars has drawn a new map, which certainly looks a very viable alternative.

“Let’s face it, more than 90 per cent of people using the bridge every day live in one of the twin towns and are not going any further into NSW. If the roadblocks were moved back as far as Paul’s map suggests, it would literally be business as normal.

“Even better, if the roadblock moves back it will save the NSW police a lot of work, as there won‘t be anywhere near the number of passes to be checked.”

Echuca Moama Accommodation Association president Grant Casbolt said his members were 100 per cent behind the proposed map from Mr Lavars because the delays were killing their businesses.

Mr Casbolt said many reported staff having to wait as much as 2.5 hours to get to work and another 2.5 hours to get home.

“People are becoming frustrated and annoyed, which is also causing domestic and mental health issues — and we know of people putting off visits to doctors and the hospital because of delays that can be up to three hours,” he said.

“Paul’s plan is sensible and practical and will allow our towns to come back to life. NSW accommodation operators will not take any Victorian bookings unless they qualified for exemptions and have the relevant border crossing permit.

“The name and reputation of our two towns is too important to tarnish and the fines would cripple their business.”

Mr Lavars said with his relocated border controls, police would need to check only 10 to 20 per cent of the traffic they were currently faced with.

He said his map had a major checkpoint on the Cobb Hwy just before the Barmah turnoff, with smaller checkpoints — one on Perricoota Rd and Centre Rd near the Moama tip. A couple of smaller roads that could pose a problem had also been identified and could be closed with bollards.

“The proposed move of the border checkpoint will alleviate the day-to-day Echuca-Moama traffic flow and still control the few Melbourne residents trying to flout the rules,” Mr Lavars said.

Angry parents have also joined the campaign with one, from Bunnaloo, reporting her daughter got on the school bus at 7.20am on Monday and did not get off it at home until 6pm.

She said her daughter said children on the bus had been upset because some wanted to go to the toilet and the young ones just wanted to go home.

“If this is day one of at least six weeks of border lockdown then either something is done about how to manage the bubble a whole lot better or we might go back to remote learning,” she said.

“But I am not going to put my children through this five days a week.”

A Moama parent agreed containing the spread of COVID-19 was imperative but said the closure of the Echuca-Moama bridge had rendered the twin towns, and the families living in them, dysfunctional.

She said Echuca-Moama functioned as one town, not two, and the current situation was not working — and insisted the border closure needed to be moved outside the Moama town limits.

“NSW children attending Echuca schools are sitting on a bus for three hours after school, with no toilet facilities,” she said.

“NSW residents at Moama schools are waiting for two hours because their bus, coming from Echuca, takes this long to get over the bridge.

“Some of these students are not arriving home until 6pm. This is not good enough.

“Children, usually not allowed to ride bikes to school due to their age, are now riding there unattended.

“Others, usually picked up from school, are now walking home unattended.

“Children living in Moama with parents working in Echuca are at home unattended after school, with no parent able to reach them if needed.

“Others are walking from Moama Grammar to the bridge and meeting parents on the Victorian side.

“No-one wants COVID in our community, but the current border closure is trading one risk for another. Kids are being left stranded and that is a disaster waiting to happen.

“The disadvantage and stress the border closure is causing families is unacceptable and a solution needs to be found immediately.”

The NSW Government was contacted for comment.