Shire can’t shut borders

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Residents fear an influx of Perth travellers before regional areas are locked down.
Camera IconResidents fear an influx of Perth travellers before regional areas are locked down.

Local authorities say it is too difficult and complex to shut the Augusta-Margaret River Shire’s borders and are waiting on further guidance from State and Federal governments.

Regional lockdowns were foreshadowed this week by WA Premier Mark McGowan, but the Opposition and numerous residents want immediate action.

People in Augusta-Margaret River have expressed serious fears about incoming visitors as Perth parents withdraw children from school, holidays and Easter loom, and absentee property owners head down south to ride out the COVID-19 crisis.

The fears sparked WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson to warn West Australians about restrictions on movement for anything other than essential services.

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“If you are in Perth and you are planning to spend Easter in the South West, you need to reconsider your plans,” he said. “This is not normal, this is a state of emergency. You simply may be stopped. The law as it is, and it may change, (is) if you don’t need to move around — don’t move around. If you have a principal home in Perth, stay in that home.”

He said measures had been drafted to restrict movement into the regions and included talks with regional airline operators about flights.

Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller said locking down regional centres would be “great” — even if not practical — in a bid to protect communities from the spread of COVID-19 in Perth.

As the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River shut down caravan parks this week, and some travellers remained stranded with the cancellation of interstate and international flights, a steady stream of camping and recreational vehicles were noticeable. Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown said logistics and legalities were too complex for restrictions and State and Federal governments had warned against non-essential travel.

“The Shire does not have jurisdiction to close borders, but we do understand the influx of people into the region in the last few days has been creating concern for some local residents,” she said.

“The Shire closed its three caravan parks (on Monday) and we are continuing to share Federal and State government directives with the community regarding travel advice.”

Shire president Ian Earl said there were too many back roads for anyone to enforce a local shutdown.

“There’s a lot of people who have already come down,” he said.

“There has been (discussion), but there’s an extreme difficulty in that. There’s so many people who go back and forth for work in Busselton and Bunbury.

“But that might happen. We might get locked down (by the State Government).”

Dr Miller said Italy’s pandemic also saw city residents flee to the countryside for the isolation, but regional medical facilities could not cope.

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