Regional Disability Advocacy Service, Mercy Connect, face issues with border permit

Regional Disability Advocacy Service executive officer Martin Butcher is concerned about impacts of the border restrictions. Picture: MARK JESSER
Regional Disability Advocacy Service executive officer Martin Butcher is concerned about impacts of the border restrictions. Picture: MARK JESSER

Disabled and vulnerable border residents have been among the hardest-hit by the new NSW-Victorian border restrictions.

Regional Disability Advocacy Service executive officer Martin Butcher said people had been overwhelmed by the 'border resident' zone and permit application system.

"Care workers who go into people's homes are having difficulty moving from one side of the border to the other," he said.

"I live and work in Wodonga, but if I were to go to Wangaratta to see someone, I will not be able to go back into Albury.

"We can all work at home, but can we run an effective organisation looking after vulnerable people if we did?

"I don't think the restrictions have been thought through well enough for people on the ground.

"There needs to be a more flexible approach when allowing people to cross the border, and the first lot of restrictions were reasonable but these seem to have gone too far."

Mr Butcher was aware of one man, who has an intellectual disability, who was turned back at the checkpoint on Friday with an invalid permit.

"He was unaware that the rules had changed, he got on a bus to Albury, and got to the border, and then the police had to escort him back across the bridge," he said.

"He thought he had a valid permit. He didn't have the understanding that yes, the rules could change.

"Another example was a man who is on bail who lives in Wodonga, but needs to report to Albury police every week.

"He didn't have a computer or a phone, so he came into our office and asked to print off a border pass.

"It wouldn't let me do it, until I put in our work phone number, because it requires a phone number.

"There have been a number of personal stories and impacts where the border closure has really impacted the lives of people with disabilities.

"For those people with disabilities who find life difficult at the best of times, to get escorted by police across the Murray River, it can be quite distressing for them."

Mercy Connect chief executive Trent Dean has been working over the past week to get a 'critical services' permit created for disability and aged care workers.

"We are most concerned about our participants who are affected - there's people who need to go to particular services," he said.

"The issue is not so much going into Victoria, but it's the return part, and we've experienced a couple of our participants being checked for identification on the way back.

"Some participants don't have any form of identification - pension cards aren't accepted - we've had challenges like that.

"The broader part of our issue is with the latest announcement, where there were further restrictions on who was deemed a border resident, we had a number of back office staff and support people, and front-line staff who provide actual care for participants, who were unable to cross the border because they're outside the border residency. "

Mr Dean said about 15 staff were affected, and he said Albury MP Justin Clancy had been actively listening to his concerns.

"The fundamental issue is disability workers and some aged care workers are not deemed to be a critical service," he said.

"We're advocating this with our local members and some positive steps have been taken."

Early messaging from the NSW government that people should get health care on their side of the border if they could, was complicated for NDIS participants who need to follow plans with specific providers.

Mercy Connect chief executive Trent Dean is pushing for a solution for his staff.

Mercy Connect chief executive Trent Dean is pushing for a solution for his staff.

Anna Moran of Optimum Physiotherapy in Wodonga said some clients found the process too overwhelming and simply cancelled appointments.

"Two NDIS clients of ours spring to mind with this second closure - one is outside of the travel bubble and was unable to navigate the system itself, to allow her to come for her treatment," she said.

"She has that treatment regularly and requires it regularly to maintain her level of function so she can work.

"The other client suffered from severe anxiety and didn't sleep all night before her appointment, to the point where she was too distressed to cross the border.

"What distresses me the most is ... it takes such energy and commitment for them to come to their physiotherapy appointments," she said.

Mr Butcher supports the push by Murray River mayors to find a more workable solution.

"If there were cases in regional Victoria, I would understand the need for these restrictions," he said.

"Why are we under the same level lock-down as people in Melbourne?"

Albury MP Justin Clancy had a phone call with Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday afternoon.

"The Premier asked me to forward some details to her personally ... it [the permit] needs to be amended so that people have an opportunity to connect with their disability worker," he said.

"She was aware there had been a level of correction - referring to the border zone. Whilst that helped, for some people, it didn't help."

Mr Clancy said it wasn't a critical services category for the sector specifically that he was seeking.

"It's looking for a solution, I'm not too prescriptive on how that solution should look," he said.

"Hopefully we can get some improvement, in that regard."

Mr Clancy said he extended his concern to the man who was turned back by police on Friday.

"It's certainly upsetting to hear of the situation," he said.

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"This is one of those occasions that really emphasises the impact that it has on people.

"I feel for this man, I feel for the police too, obviously they're doing their job.

"I heard a really positive story where police went out of their way to help a young man with an intellectual disability as well ... but that doesn't in any way take away from his [this man's] story."

There was a breakthrough for personal care on Monday, with people applying for the 'border zone resident' permit being able to get a permit for providing or receiving care or assistance to a vulnerable person.

Service NSW does not specify if this permit category is open to professionals providing care in a work capacity.

Regardless, the issue remains that workers who live outside the blue zone cannot get a permit to go to work, or are being required to self-isolate in NSW if they travel outside of the blue zone into Victoria.

This story Disabled residents without access to carers, and turned away at border first appeared on The Border Mail.