Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, is calling for regional areas like East Gippsland and Wellington Shires – where there are zero or minimal COVID cases – to have their local situations considered in the setting of restrictions.
“This whole thing is a moving feast and things can change fast, but we need to look after the economic and social wellbeing of communities where we can.
“As we contemplate a return to Stage Three restrictions for at least six weeks, I will be writing to the Premier and certain Ministers to highlight a number of concerns that have been raised with me.
“I appreciate decisions have to be made quickly and without the value of hindsight, but my concern is that there appears to be a lack of consideration given to country communities like ours – it cannot be one size fits all rule making.
“We have had one case in East Gippsland the past three months and as far as I know, that person is not in our region (cases are recorded on home address, even if the person is located elsewhere for treatment) and Wellington Shire has none.
“Yet we are being disadvantaged by the selfish and errant ways of others. There is no doubt we need to be extremely cautious on this, but we also need balance.
“Many are questioning, that with much tighter restrictions introduced in Melbourne and face coverings now mandatory state-wide, giving even greater protections to areas where we had no cases to start with, why did we revert to Stage Three in addition to this?
“With the hardship we’ve endured with drought and fires prior to COVID, we need the flexibility to support our local businesses – East Gippslanders supporting each other, but the restrictions imposed do not allow this in many cases.
“The cafes, restaurants and pubs in our towns that have not recorded a single case of coronavirus in six months, now face six weeks of shutdowns. I fear many won’t survive.
“While we need strict rules in place and the situation requires ongoing daily monitoring – there is still time to review situations on a more local basis before more people are put out of work and small businesses close.
“I realise we cannot have too many sets rules, but there is clearly flexibility for some more local thinking in my view.”
Mr Bull said it was also unfair year 11 and 12 country students were being denied attending school to ‘maintain a level playing field’ with city-based students.
“Country students have for many years had lower educational outcomes on average compared to their city counterparts. It is not right they be denied best practice education for the simple reason of maintaining a level playing field.
“Surely we should be doing the best we can for all students whatever their situation. The rationale is flawed – we should not be limiting best outcomes for some, to appease others.
“As one local teacher said to me this week - it’s not the job of the government to make it easier for universities to decide who they admit, it is up to the universities to come up with a system that takes into account the disadvantages of some.
“We also have our young adults unable to book a test to get their L Plates and then those wanting to sit their probationary licence test being unable to do so.
“These young people need to be able to travel for new jobs and employment and it is not right they are being held back when we have zero or minimal cases here.
“It’s a classic case of why we need flexibility in rules rather than an across the board approach. It is surely no more hazardous to do your test this week than it was last week.
“I was pleased today to hear about the tougher penalties for breaches of COVID restrictions and the strengthened monitoring of people moving from lock down areas to our region.
“I fully support these tougher restrictions in the problem areas and for those doing the wrong thing,” Mr Bull said.