Businesses on Queensland-NSW border struggling to survive due to COVID-19 closure

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The Queensland government is refusing to provide an emergency funding package for Gold Coast businesses crippled by border restrictions despite warnings many could go broke.

From the footpath at her Coolangatta cafe on the southern Gold Coast, Kylie Bastos is so close to where her locked-down staff and regular customers live on the other side of the border she can almost see them.

That proximity to New South Wales had been a great asset, but since COVID-free Queensland imposed a hard border it has become a heavy burden.

Her morning coffee rush has turned to a trickle and her turnover is down a crippling 60 per cent.

She admits she is scared.

“It’s a ghost town in Coolangatta,” she said.

“I can’t afford to pay the rent and I’ve been here since 2016 and I’ve never ever been in this situation before.”

Her cafe is limited to takeaway only.

“A lot of people have local businesses here and they’re going under,” she said, pointing to some along her street.

Other shops cannot even open because there is not enough staff.

Call for more business support

The beachside communities of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads are in different states, but they are so intertwined the area is known as Twin Towns.

But in mid-August free movement stopped there when NSW announced a statewide COVID lockdown and Queensland responded by blocking many interstate workers from entry.

The Queensland government says the hard border could be in place until at least late October.

Opposition Liberal-National MP Laura Gerber represents the local area in Queensland Parliament. She believes the situation is so dire the state government should introduce a financial package for the border community.

“If we’re expected to bear the burden of this border closure to keep the rest of Queensland safe then we need the state government to step up and support us because these guys won’t survive,” she said.

But Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick has rejected that.

Mr Dick said current COVID-19 assistance was already generous enough.

“We’ve been able to manage the virus, which means businesses can get back to business,” he said.

“We’ve made a significant commitment, $300 million from the state, $300 million from the federal government, as well as waiving a whole range of government fees and charges.”

‘A tough pill for people to swallow’

Alan Birch is also struggling to keep his screen-printing business going during lockdown in Tweed Heads in Northern NSW.

His warehouse in Currumbin Waters on the Gold Coast is full of orders waiting to be filled but he and other key staff are trapped on the wrong side of the border.

Only three people are on site in Queensland to keep production running at around 20 per cent.

“There’s the real chance that if we can’t keep the relationships going with our clients that we will lose them,” he said.

Mr Birch is frustrated he does not meet the definition of an essential worker and cannot go to work despite being fully vaccinated.

“The whole Tweed-Coolangatta region, the Northern Rivers, the Gold Coast, it’s all interrelated,” he said.

“To stop people from going to work that are that are healthy — and there’s no current cases anywhere near where we are — because of an arbitrary line in the sand that was drawn years and years ago, I think that’s a tough pill for people to swallow.

“You need to earn money to live.”

It is also causing major headaches for the building industry.

Stroud Homes construction manager Rohan Cargill is overseeing multiple homes on a new estate in Lennox Head in Northern NSW.

Out of about 25 builders on the estate, only eight are active, according to Mr Cargill.

Work has largely ground to a halt in the area because many of the tradies who perform the jobs there live in Queensland and are not crossing the border.

“At the moment, we’d be short probably eight to 10 different gangs, varying from painters through to tilers across to chippies,” Mr Cargill said.

“The people you’re building for, they’re paying mortgages plus they’re paying their rents wherever they’re living at the moment while their home has been delayed in build.

“The mental strain on the people working, the people you’re building for as well, the customers, is horrendous.”

‘Why are we all in prison?’

A multi-party group of NSW politicians believes it has a solution.

They want the creation of a border community zone, with the checkpoints moved to the south and west of the Tweed.

But for that to happen each state government needs to agree.

Cafe owner Kylie Bastos strongly supports a border bubble.

She believes it could reduce the financial hit she is experiencing and still keep COVID-19 out of Queensland.

The prospect of the border being shut until the end of October makes her emotional.

“Oh, it makes me want to cry, to be honest,” she said.

“We don’t want an outbreak here but the reality is we don’t have any outbreaks here and so why are we all in prison?

“Why are we having to live like this when we could just move the border line?”

Watch this story on 7.30 on ABC TV and iview.

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(Original ABC Article)