Fears for Wyandra herd as Victorian owners locked out

Victorian property owners in despair as Qld border exemption refused

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The remoteness of the Leishman's cattle station has meant they've struggled to find a caretaker to look after their herd. Pictures supplied.

The remoteness of the Leishman's cattle station has meant they've struggled to find a caretaker to look after their herd. Pictures supplied.

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The welfare of 300 cattle in remote south western Queensland is being compromised by the Queensland government's refusal to grant exemption permits for essential agricultural work, according to their Victorian owners.

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The welfare of 300 cattle in remote south western Queensland is being compromised by the Queensland government's refusal to grant exemption permits for essential agricultural work, according to their Victorian owners.

John and Michelle Leishman are among the thousands of landholders and workers involved in Australia's primary production supply chain who have been adversely impacted by state border closures.

As well as operating a mixed cropping/sheep farm north west of Ballarat in central Victoria, the couple own a 38,445ha cattle station north of Cunnamulla.

The remoteness of the Queensland property and the nature of the work involved has seen them unable to recruit a caretaker for the past 12 months and so they have been commuting between Victoria and Queensland on a bi-monthly basis to care for their stock.

They originally had a permit to make the 2600km two-way commute with their working dog to attend to water and fodder needs.

Anticipating the need to prepare for the ramifications of Victoria's fresh lockdown, they applied to the Queensland government on July 1 for an exemption to quarantine in a Brisbane hotel, whenever they came to the state.

"This application was first viewed on July 22, denying our exemption from mandatory quarantine," she said. "We further applied for exceptional circumstances and have been advised our file is now closed."

This was despite the couple explaining that the artesian water points their cattle relied on required their constant attention.

"Due to the pressure of artesian water, our pipes constantly burst and leak, resulting in the watering points failing.

"Fodder for our cattle is manageable at present but from September, feed will run low and we must feed manually.

"Cattle mustering is due in November and we are very worried about animal welfare and biosecurity issues."

They are unable to remain in Queensland once they arrive because their canola and wheat harvest is due to start in Victoria, along with shearing.

Cattle on the property have had sufficient feed to date but will need supplementary feeding by September if there's no rain.

Cattle on the property have had sufficient feed to date but will need supplementary feeding by September if there's no rain.

In recent weeks they have relied on a neighbour to help out on the Queensland property but Ms Leishman said there was a limit to the favours they could ask fellow property owners for.

They told Queensland Health that self-isolating at their Wyandra property was reasonable due to its extreme isolation, and would expose them to less risk than mandated Brisbane hotel quarantine.

As well as buying the food they'd need for their stay before they left and driving straight to the property, the Leishmans told Queensland Health they would undertake a COVID-19 test before they left, and would provide a statutory declaration to that effect.

"We just get fobbed off," Ms Leishman said.

"We suspect we're one of the early applicants in the Queensland Health portfolio - we were told they had 50,000 applications to get through.

"If the government is going to close borders, they need to be prepared for business disruptions.

"We despair for all farm operators in this situation."

Michelle and John Leishman at home at their sheep and cropping property in central Victoria.

Michelle and John Leishman at home at their sheep and cropping property in central Victoria.

When Queensland Country Life contacted Queensland Health for a response, we were originally told the media team was too busy to reply, and that the Chief Health Officer was too busy to speak with us.

We were subsequently directed to the health department website, but in response to further questions about essential worker categories, a Queensland Health spokesperson said that where there was an urgent need for a specialist worker, approval may be given to allow that person to undertake the necessary work with limited interactions with other individuals.

"If you need to come to Queensland to complete an essential activity you are allowed to enter if you have been in a hotspot, however specialist workers will be required to complete 14 days mandatory quarantine in government-arranged accommodation at their own expense unless exceptional circumstances apply," the spokesperson said.

"The workplace is required to have a special plan in place covering quarantine requirements, particularly how they will manage the visit of the specialist worker.

"Agribusinesses are classified as specialist workers under the list of essential activities, but not seasonal workers, unless they are moving to Queensland as a new resident.

"Specialist workers must seek approval from the Chief Health Officer and provide this as evidence when entering Queensland.

"Workplaces that have specialist workers are required to have a COVID-19 safe plan.

"Businesses should allow five business working days for their exemption request to be processed."

The Queensland-NSW border zones that people can move between.

The Queensland-NSW border zones that people can move between.

Paroo shire mayor Suzette Beresford said that not having expertise in the area, her council supported Queensland Health decisions.

"We can understand Queensland erring on the side of caution," she said.

Cr Beresford said she had not heard of any other problems for graziers in the Cunnamulla area.

"Unlike other border regions, we don't have farming and people close to borders needing to cross back and forth," she said.

The federal government on Friday pressed the states to be more flexible with their border closures for regional communities, who are bearing the brunt of the impacts.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said state governments had to address serious cross-border issues that were having a "devastating impact" on regional families.

In Queensland Parliament on Tuesday evening, Southern Downs MP James Lister said that he and his staff had been inundated with concerns from residents on both sides of the 400km border in his electorate, which stretched from Killarney to just short of Mungindi.

"Not just from my constituents but from those who live on the other side of the border in New South Wales and for whom Queensland is their community of interest," he said.

"We have had complaints from a tyre shop proprietor who is unable to reach places like North Star and Croppa Creek, where she sells tyres, and from a veterinary surgeon in Killarney who has clients throughout the area on the other side of the border from him in Killarney.

"It is calving season and he cannot reach Bonalbo and some of the communities that he needs to reach because those postcodes are not included in the bubble along the border.

"Another one that springs to mind is Greg Carey, who runs Carey Bros Abattoir. His premises are just outside one of the postcode locations, which are exempted along the border.

"Some of his staff work in Yangan but come from just across the border. These restrictions are proving very difficult for business, for families and for ordinary workers as they try to go about their daily business."

Mr Lister said he supported and understood the necessity of closing borders but wanted to see an expansion of the bubble in the areas he represented.

Related: Mungindi's border hot topic

"We are talking about areas that are much less person-dense, and I think would be significantly less risky than the urbanised areas that are currently covered closer to the coast," he said.

"Those who are struggling with the closures are not asking for the border to be opened.

"They just want a fair go because in country areas people need to travel a lot further than a few kilometres from either side of the border.

"The economic impacts are very hard on businesses that have already struggled with drought."

The story Fears for Wyandra herd as Victorian owners locked out first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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