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Border moves south - Byron, Ballina bans to end in time for holidays

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While NSW technically remains a hotspot, Queensland will extend its free travel border zone further south to encompass five more local government areas.

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Having already opened up air travel between the ACT and Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today announced the Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Richmond Valley council areas of NSW would be included in the border zone.

That will allow about 150,000 extra NSW residents into Queensland from 1am on October 1, coinciding with school holidays.

“Residents will be able to apply for a border pass and then they will be able to freely travel around Queensland, and Queenslanders will be able to freely travel there as well,” Palaszczuk said today.

The move comes two weeks before the caretaker period starts, on October 6, ahead of the October 31 election. Queensland’s emergency declaration is also due to be renewed in the days before the caretaker period will require greater consultation with the Liberal National Party.

It also came ahead of the news that NSW had recorded no community-acquired cases of COVID-19 overnight – the first time in 106 days. If that continues, Queensland will likely amend its hotspot declarations and further ease border restrictions. South Australia has already moved to open its border to NSW.

Australia’s worst-hit state, Victoria, reported 28 new cases and three further deaths, still well below the numbers reported in recent weeks. That could lead to tough restrictions on Melbourne finally being eased.

Queensland recorded no new COVID-19 cases overnight, and has gone 12 days without a risky case in the community. If that trend continues until Thursday the Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young, will be able to lift restrictions imposed on south-east Queensland in response to several clusters.

“Hopefully that will happen on Friday as we go into the weekend and people will again be able to gather in those groups of thirty,” Young said.

Young said the border zone changes reflected the lack of COVID-19 cases in northern NSW, and the need for those communities to interact with the nearest major centres in Queensland. While flights from Sydney to Ballina had increases, there had been no northern outbreaks. She also said the local health response had improved, and wastewater testing provided an added element of surveillance.

Palaszczuk also revealed she was consulting business groups on what she described as “stage four” of Queensland’s path out of COVID-19 restrictions. She is planning to announce the changes ahead of the end-of-month review of border restrictions, which have proved contentious, and set the scene for more economic activity ahead of the election.

“At the end of the month, we’ll also be looking at any other restrictions we can ease across Queensland,” Palaszczuk said.

While easing restrictions may provide business with some relief, any increase in cases could add to community concerns (the AFL Grand Final will be held in Brisbane a week before the election). It may also provide an opportunity for the LNP to shift the spotlight onto Labor’s record in government before the pandemic hit.

LNP leader Deb Frecklington has, like Palaszczuk, been travelling the regions to drum up support ahead of the election. Frecklington yesterday gave a speech in which she argued Queensland was in poor shape before the pandemic, and only an LNP government could get the state out of the even bigger hole it found itself in due to the recession.

“We are setting big goals for ourselves and for Queensland,” Frecklington told the Rural Press Club.

“But I know we have the people and the policies to turn this state around. And I know that Queensland is bursting with potential.”

As Labor called on the LNP to distance itself from the misleading claims of former life member turned political rogue Clive Palmer, the LNP faced questions over plans to cut funding to the Environmental Defenders Office. Palaszczuk suggested it followed the Campbell Newman playbook of cuts and job losses.

Frecklington is in Maryborough today to promise an education initiative, if elected, while Treasurer Cameron Dick is in Bundaberg to promise funding for seasonal workers.

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