Anne Webster calls for frank discussion after Mildura lockdown

Nationals MP Anne Webster (left). Picture: Getty Images
Nationals MP Anne Webster (left). Picture: Getty Images

A government MP in lockdown has called for a frank discussion on the "enormous" impact of hardline responses to COVID-19.

Regional Victoria was not exempt from an indefinite extension to the state's lockdown on Tuesday, after Mildura recorded its first coronavirus case in 15 months over the weekend.

Nationals MP Anne Webster said the town had "always [been] put under lockdown when Melbourne sneezed" at "enormous" cost to business and mental health.

"We've got no community spread but every business is closed, pretty well," she said.

"People are contacting me in a desperate state, not knowing how they are going to get out of lockdown five."

Dr Webster argued a politically advantageous "obsession" with risk mitigation had drowned out an important discussion on government power.

"I'm not talking about having a revolt ... But I think that, particularly at a government level, we need to have a pretty good look at what is driving some of these decisions," she said.

Residents across Mildura flocked to pop-up testing sites after the case was confirmed.

But mayor Jason Modica said the "intensity" of the community's reaction petered off once it became clear the Delta strain had not taken a hold.

"It is a very difficult circumstance but ... we think the hard work may pay off," he said.

He said the situation had been a "moving feast" throughout the pandemic, and "a better central set of rules" would have given more clarity.

"[But] whether it is a lack of leadership from the federal government, or overzealous leadership from the states, I think is irrelevant," he said.

It comes after revelations Australia's largest agricultural field day AgQuip, initially slated for Gunnedah in August, has been postponed until November.

Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain said her region had also been hit hard by the Sydney lockdown and Victoria's subsequent border closure.

"You're never going to get back the July school holidays, which obviously has a significant impact on a number of businesses," she said.

Businesses which can demonstrate a 30 per cent decline in turnover are eligible for support payments from the NSW government.

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But Ms McBain said the 2019-20 bushfires had already decimated business turnover across Eden-Monaro, with many unable to meet that threshold.

"We're going to see businesses that have got this impact from Sydney and Melbourne lockdowns, who won't be eligible for any government stimulus," she said.

"The lack of certainty, clarity and, by definition, a lack of leadership coming out of the federal government has really hurt local businesses."

Ms McBain said low case numbers across the regions throughout the pandemic ensured a high compliance with health orders.

"They don't want to be the person that shuts down their community," she said.

But a COVID-19 case detected in Goulburn this month had "sent a scare" through the region, she said.

Goulburn mayor Bob Kirk warned reduced travel from Sydney during the lockdown had forced cafes to operate at reduced hours.

"We're a drive two hours out of Sydney, when it's usually the time people will pull up for petrol, pie, or a piddle," he said.

This story Frank discussion on lockdowns needed: Nats MP first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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