Trucks keep rolling despite state and territory border closures

A number of Australian states and territories including South Australia have closed their borders in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Those working in agriculture and transport are pleased with the SA government's decision to enable the food supply chain to continue operating.

However, there remains some confusion, especially among ag service providers, as to who is exempt from self-isolating for 14 days after re-entering the state.

Earlier in the week, SA Police (SAPOL) was reportedly inundated by those living in cross-border communities, or those who spend time working interstate, seeking exemptions as an essential traveller.

This has forced the abandonment of the permit process.

A SAPOL spokesperson said heavy vehicles carrying essential freight were now being waved through at SA’s 12 border checkpoints, while cases for essential travelling will continue to be determined by the border patrol officers on a case-by-case basis.

The spokesperson said the organisation hopes the process will become smoother in coming days.

“Life isn't easy but we are not about making life hard, but slowing the spread of the virus,” she said.

Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone said the state government has taken steps to ensure ongoing critical food supplies and agricultural freight – including livestock freight and hay/fodder transport – are exempt.

“We are very fortunate that SA produces over five times the volume of food consumed locally and we will continue to support industry to meet the current strong demand for South Australian produce,” said Whetstone.

“This is why there are exemptions in place to the border restrictions, recognising the daily requirements of people who live and work near the border and for people who need to cross the border for essential works such as the conduct of agriculture and supply chains.”

Whetstone said Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) has been working closely with SAPOL and the provisions have been designed to accommodate agricultural industry requirements.

Currently there is no defined limit on the distance agricultural service providers and transporters who meet the exemption categories can enter into the state.

Crane Livestock Transport Director, Rusty Crane, and Logistics Manager Peter Edmonds are pleased with the decision and say the country would stop without freight movements.

They say their Naracoorte-based business would have been shut down overnight if this was not the case, with up to 20 loads crossing the SA-VIC border each day.

Many of the state's lambs are trucked to Vic processors as well as Vic cattle heading to Teys' Naracoorte abattoir.

Crane said the amount of stock processed interstate is huge and has been even greater since Thomas Foods International's Murray Bridge abattoir burnt down.

“Apart from Mount Compass, Naracoorte, Mount Gambier and Millicent markets which we cart out of to the meatworks here, 99 per cent of what we do is moving across the border,” said Crane.

Similarly, Edmonds described the border as “only a line on the map” for the movement of agricultural commodities like livestock, but also for SA milk going to Vic dairy processors, SA grain and hay needed for animals interstate, as well as commodities needed for the 2020 cropping season.

He said stopping these freight movements would be tantamount to crucifying the country.

“The world still has to eat and that all starts at the farm – whether it is beef, lamb, dairy and even grain,” said Edmonds.

Crane stated that even if it reaches stage-two restrictions he would not like to see truck drivers isolated.

“In war time they still had to keep the supply lines open,” he said.

They both regard truck drivers as a low risk of spreading the virus, but they are taking extra precautions and encouraging their drivers to minimise time spent in service stations and roadhouses and to carry as much of their own food from home as possible.

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