Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (16:50): I, too, rise to support this bill for a cross-border commissioner. It has been well delivered in this house by previous speakers and this is something that I believe we should complete in haste.
I was very pleased when I got hold of Luke Wilson, the Victorian Cross Border Commissioner during the intensity of the COVID crisis when we had shutdowns and lockdowns. All kinds of things were happening across the border involving people with health concerns, people working in health, whether they lived in Murrayville or just over the border from Pinnaroo, whether it was schoolteachers and children who could not come to work when the lockdowns came in, whether it was the seven biosecurity employees who live in Murrayville, or the man at the Pinnaroo border station, which is actually, as I learnt during the pandemic, a kilometre inside South Australia but is technically where the border is. There were a whole range of scenarios, including farmers just trying to do their job, and many of them obviously had land on either side of the border.
I first want to commend the work that our former Marshall Liberal government did. They were difficult times. We have not had a pandemic for 100 years, since the Spanish flu. I certainly take my hat off to everyone in Health, from Nicola Spurrier, down and everyone in the police force, from Grant Stevens down. Several times I met with people on the border, and the police had been sent to Pinnaroo for rotations from different duties—usually from Adelaide but also from other areas in the state—and I commend them for working in difficult times. People were getting emailed updates on what was happening literally every half an hour, as things could change.
Sometimes, things got misconstrued, but it was a very, very dynamic environment. I certainly had business owners who were not allowed to come across the border and operate their businesses during the lockdowns. It was interesting during one lockdown when we were fighting the Yumali-Netherton fire—a long way from the border, relatively—we had hundreds of people coming together for the common cause of saving property and land.
There are a whole range of stories of what happened on the border and some of the most heart-wrenching involved the parents of schoolchildren who grew up on the South Australian side but were at different schools and colleges, whether it was in Hamilton in Victoria or elsewhere just over the border. The member for MacKillop would be well aware of some of these people and those down towards Naracoorte.
A good friend of mine had a daughter going to a school in Victoria who wanted the support of her mother. The best thing they could do to get anywhere close was to sit on a back road out the back of Naracoorte a couple of metres apart and talk to each other and have the dog run between them. That is all they could do.
I have mentioned here before that the police officers were actually in tears as they said, 'If you touch each other, I'm going to have to arrest you.' That is how tough it got. Assisting people to get exemptions took some time, but we got there in the end. It was very tough, and for the right reasons. People were not sure what could happen with the pandemic.
I mentioned farmers. I went up to meet some property owners and farmers at Pinnaroo one day and we were talking about what would happen if we got locked down and what would happen if we got to harvest. I said, 'Where's your boundary for your property into Victoria?' They said, 'You can see it up there on the tree line.' It was a couple of kilometres away. I asked, 'Have you got a wheat crop through the fence?' He said yes. I said, 'Well, you can't leave a wheat crop standing.' I know agriculture had exemptions but there was confusion at times about what was exempt and what was not going to be exempt. I just said, 'You've got to take that crop off. You call me if you have any trouble.' It did not get to that.
There are difficulties when you have seven biosecurity staff living across the border. Murrayville, for a range of reasons including football and netball, is essentially a part of South Australia; it just happens to be 30 kilometres across the border. I have attended the Murrayville Cricket Ground (MCG). My boys are now 18 and 21 and they have played football there since they were six. They reckon in the morning you just chase the kangaroos off the oval and away you go. It is not a bad ground.
Murrayville are so closely tied with South Australia that when they applied for grants to build their new facilities they had to work with the SANFL on the grant applications. They are obviously funded out of Victorian and federal government grants, but the support procedures came from the South Australian National Football League. They are part of the Mallee Football League, where my boys play at Peake. They were interesting times. They are some of the complexities.
We were talking about Neil Kerley and Russell Ebert today. People everywhere are passionate about their sport, no matter which sport it is—country football and netball. The Murrayville community felt like they were being excluded because of different lockdowns that meant they could not come through and play. It was just the way it worked. They thought they were being ostracised by the South Australian clubs. Some people over in Victoria thought the South Australian side were just trying to manipulate things. That could not be further from the truth.
I take my hat off to Lou Boughen, President of the Mallee Football League at the time. I had meetings with the SANFL and Netball SA. It got serious. There was talk of legal action at one stage as they were coming into finals. There was an interesting time when a notice went out on a Saturday that the Victorians were supposed to be shut in their homes at 1 o'clock that afternoon. I knew that everyone playing sport or involved in sport would be at Pinnaroo for one of the finals, and they were. I rang my local police superintendent. I must say the cooperation I got from Scott Denny, his team and all the other police that I ever had anything to do with during the hard times of the pandemic was just fantastic.
Scott Denny said, 'What can I do?' Then we learned about all the logistics with a whole range of procedures that South Australia Police obviously only operate on our side of the border and obviously Victoria Police operate on the other side. There were two finals played that weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, and I believe Murrayville people stayed on the South Australian side and played a final the next day. There was all sorts of talk that they were going to stay through until either the preliminary final or the grand final the next week, but they went home and they were locked out. It was a tragedy for all involved that they could not play in the final. That just shows some of the passion of these people.
I met with the Pinnaroo primary school principal, who had a problem with getting students and teachers through. We were having a very polite meeting with the door open, and one of his teachers stood in the doorway during the meeting. She was being very controlled. I had talked to her on the phone a couple of times previously. I said to her, 'Just let it go, just unload and say what you like. I've heard it all before. Just go.' That was the best thing: she unloaded on me and I did not care. She needed to vent because of the problems those people had just living their lives. As has been said, the border was just an imaginary line in the sand for these people that did not really exist for the way they ran their lives. That is how heated it got.
I must commend the security that went in place to make sure that people were not in the wrong place. A farmer in his self-propelled boom sprayer told me he had pulled up on a back road right near the border. He had to make a phone call, so he thought he would do the right thing and get on his mobile phone. He pulled up, but within a few minutes the police were there. They said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'Well, I've pulled up to make a phone call.' They said, 'Well, you are going to have to move that because you are right in front of one of our cameras in the trees.'
Mr PEDERICK: Seriously, that's what happened. You just have to give credit. People knew that if they went around, as they did in the normal practice of work—they were not trying to dodge the main crossing on the Mallee Highway—they might go to their property on a back road and come out the other side, and the police could tell when they crossed because they had cameras there. Di Thornton, who lives on the Victorian side, runs a private health clinic in Pinnaroo. She could not come and run her own clinic. As we know, health care is a struggle even in Adelaide, let alone in a border community.
One thing that was a real problem was the supply of fuel. Murrayville does not have any fuel pumps anymore, so they got their fuel in Pinnaroo, and you can imagine the chaos with that. I think there was some ad hoc arrangement made at some stage for a little while, for a few weeks, when some fuel stocks were set up locally in Murrayville. It was a difficult time and people were frustrated at every level, and I get that. Whether it was through farming, working a business, working in health care or involved in education or whether they were trying to get their kids across the border to go to school, it was a very tough time.
Apart from the very sad story of a mother and daughter having to sit a metre or two apart at a border and talk without being able to touch each other, I just want to share one very good news story. On a Monday, I had contact from a constituent who said their son was getting married on the Friday. I thought, 'Yes, fair enough.' I thought, 'We have the cross-border bubble, so they can come across from Murrayville and perhaps go to Pinnaroo and Lameroo.' But, no, the wedding was in Hahndorf outside the cross-border bubble, which had been instituted in that time. We looked at it and did a bit of work on it and I thought, 'No, it's no good.' To that person's credit they kept ringing my office.
From the initial call, we kept ramping it up to the Hon. Stephen Wade in the other place and his team. I give them due credit because we hammered them on this one because this family were not going to be able to witness their own son's wedding. The wedding was on that Friday night, and I got a phone call to the office at about 9.30 in the morning.
The Hon. J.K. Szakacs interjecting:
Mr PEDERICK: Why?
The Hon. J.K. Szakacs: He doesn't like weddings. He doesn't like family gatherings.
Mr PEDERICK: He will get over it. Now I have lost my train of thought.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Odenwalder): Start again.
Mr PEDERICK: Yes, I could—are you going to extend my time?
The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: The wedding was on a Friday.
Mr PEDERICK: I know—thank you—we are helping each other out today. At about 9.30, I got a call to say the exemption was on the top of the pile. I thought, 'Well, we're getting somewhere.' It was about an hour and a half later when I got the call: 'Your people across the border are going to a wedding.' That was a fantastic phone call to make. I rang the mother of the son, and she said, 'But my husband is out on the header.' I said, 'Well, it's too hot and windy anyway.' I said, 'You're going to a wedding.' That was fantastic, a fantastic result, an individual result, but I am sure a lot of MPs from either side of the house managed to get those exemptions, but they were tough work.
It was especially around the time when these footy finals were being played up at Pinnaroo and Lameroo over the weekend the Victorians were supposed to be shut in, and it was all crossed up who was supposed to be where. Luke Wilson is the Victorian Cross Border Commissioner—and I will note that both the Victorian commissioner and the New South Wales commissioner were appointments without legislation; I just place that on the record—working for another colour of government. He said to me one day, 'Adrian, have my mobile number.' I said, 'Are you sure?' He said that he was and to ring him any time. I said, 'Well, be careful what you wish for because that might happen.'
I must say that it was only during daylight hours, and I think it was only once or twice on a weekend, but I will always treasure the fact that I could pick up the phone and just go bang and say, 'What's happening your side?' He would already know a lot about what was happening on our side, but he said, 'What is your view of the world about what's happening?' It was fantastic just to have that dialogue with someone whose job it was to be the Cross Border Commissioner.
I know there has been some talk about whether it creates another section of red tape, and that is the last thing we want. We want the right outcome here. Some people have said, 'Oh, well you can just ring up the appropriate ministers over the border,' or this and that. I do not know if anyone else has, and perhaps they do, but to have a list of ministers' contacts—whether it is in Victoria or New South Wales, or Western Australia if you are on the other side of state—is just too much. You just ring one person, like I rang Luke Wilson multiple times, and he would give me the drum. That was something to truly treasure during the dark times of COVID.
We do need to get this right, as the member for Mount Gambier has indicated. It is good to see that it appears that across the parliament a review will be acknowledged and put into legislation. I fully support the cross-border commissioner, as long as we have the right process in place. It is not about setting up useless plans that just do not mean much but about people like Luke Wilson, who you can ring up and just get the job done. I commend the bill.