Workers stuck in expensive border-bubble limbo


HUNDREDS of Queensland workers are living in limbo while officials take weeks to assess applications for exemptions from the controversial border bubble.

From forking out thousands of dollars in rent to sleeping on couches or in cars south of the border, Gold Coast business owners and employees are being forced to take extraordinary measures to keep their operations afloat.

New figures also reveal the border closures are costing northern NSW businesses an average of $11,000 a week.

Cross-border travel passes allow residents of the Gold Coast and Tweed Shire - and communities further west, to move seamlessly across state lines, but the impracticalities have been exposed on the Glitter Strip, where hundreds of workers are prevented from commuting to towns beyond the bubble's boundary.

More than 600 construction workers alone are waiting to hear whether they will qualify for an exemption allowing them to travel further south than the Tweed Shire without having to perform a mandatory 14-day quarantine in order to return to Queensland, while hundreds of workers in other industries are in a similar predicament.

Katrina Main, the general manager of Cawarra Cosmetics at Billinudgel, is living with her parents at Tweed Heads and forking out $1600 a week for staffers to stay south of the border while she awaits a ruling on an exemption application lodged almost a month ago.

She said the situation was having a drastic impact on her business, which is ironically manufacturing hand sanitiser to help satisfy burgeoning demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

"They (the government and health department) are forgetting about Queenslanders," she said.

"They have these black and white rules but not everything is black and white.

Cawarra Cosmetics owner Katrina Main. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Cawarra Cosmetics owner Katrina Main. Picture: Nigel Hallett

"The delay (in hearing about an application for an exemption) is getting ridiculous so I put in a complaint 10 days ago, and I still haven't heard anything."

Jane Laverty, the regional manager for Business NSW, said the border closure had 'brought businesses to their knees'.

"People are couch surfing, sleeping in cars, they are doing whatever is necessary, but that can only go on for so long," she said.

A survey by Business NSW has found that northern NSW businesses are losing an average of $3000 a week more than operators on the NSW-Victorian border who face a similar scenario.

Federal McPherson MP Karen Andrews said inconsistencies over who was and was not granted exemptions to border restrictions were causing enormous distress to those affected.

"Queenslanders have the right to know why AFL officials and celebrities from Melbourne are allowed to gallivant around Gold Coast resorts while sick people, workers and business owners are turned away or left in limbo," she said.

"COVID-19 is more than a health crisis, it is also having a devastating impacts on people's lives and livelihoods - and Premier Palaszczuk is picking and choosing when she acknowledges that.

Our supply chains are being disrupted and small businesses are being devastated all because of new lines on a map and a lack of common sense."

In a statement, a spokesman for Queensland Health said border restrictions were in place 'to save lives'.

"When the latest border restrictions took effect, our exemptions team received an enormous volume of applications (and) we appreciate applicants for their patience," the statement said.

"In the past week we have streamlined the exemption process, including expanding the number of people who can sign off on exemption requests. This will help turn around responses to applications faster."