Hard border 'virtually impossible' with NSW, would force most ACT criminal investigations to stop

ACT police check cars on the Federal Highway at a Covid checkpoint in January. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
ACT police check cars on the Federal Highway at a Covid checkpoint in January. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Criminal investigations would virtually cease if the ACT moved to establish a hard border with NSW, which internal government modelling has shown would also see around 500 nursing staff shut out of the territory.

The ACT government worked last year to understand what the ramifications of a hard border closure with NSW would be, but the project showed it was a practically impossible option.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith on Friday gave the strongest indication yet the ACT could establish a regional border bubble, in response to what appeared to be a worsening Covid situation in regional NSW.

"As we continue this planning, we are asking the community to be aware that the situation could change very quickly, and to be prepared to respond to any increasing restrictions or changes to travel advice," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

"In the event of tightening restrictions in the ACT we will work very closely with surrounding communities to ensure that people understand the implications of any new requirements or restrictions that might be put in place."

While the territory avoided tougher restrictions on Friday afternoon, the Health Minister again reaffirmed the territory government's position that it would be "virtually impossible" to impose a hard border with NSW.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith addresses the media at the Legislative Assembly on Friday. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith addresses the media at the Legislative Assembly on Friday. Picture: Keegan Carroll

ACT Policing told the ACT government in August that a hard border closure would require at least 308 police a day to patrol four major and nine secondary entry points into the territory.

More than 47,000 vehicles cross the ACT and NSW border in any 24 hour period, the ACT government said.

The territory last year discussed planning for border arrangements with the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council, the mayor of Yass Valley Council, the NSW Cross-border Commissioner and the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Conversations with surrounding regions are continuing so the region could be prepared for a bubble arrangement if needed, Ms Stephen-Smith said this week.

To implement border restrictions like those established between Albury and Wodonga, which used 60 per cent police and 40 per cent other personnel, 175 ACT police would be diverted from normal activity.

This would see all 55 full-time equivalent road policing officers, all 60 full-time equivalent criminal investigation officers and force public access to police stations to close. Sexual assault, child abuse, homicide and outlaw motorcycle gang investigations would continue.

Just one unit for each station would remain on duty to respond to priority one incidents.

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The ACT government said 13 per cent of its healthcare workforce lives outside the ACT, including almost 500 nurses and 230 health professional offices and medical offices.

Canberra Health Services serves a catchment of 200,000 people from surrounding NSW, and more than 5000 emergency or elective surgeries were performed on NSW residents in the ACT in 2019-20.

Roughly 9 per cent of the territory's education workforce reside outside the ACT, along with 5000 students.

Five industries - manufacturing; wholesale trade; electricity, gas, water and waste services; transport, postal and warehousing; and construction - employ more than 15 per cent of their workforce from NSW, while more than 25,000 people from surrounding areas travelled into the ACT for work at the time of the 2016 Census.

More than 3100 ACT public servants lived outside the border, including 500 social service workers.

The ACT government estimates 4000 people who live in the ACT cross the border to work in surrounding towns.

Ms Stephen-Smith last year said a hard border with NSW would be a last resort option to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.

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This story Hard border with NSW would halt most ACT criminal investigations first appeared on The Canberra Times.