NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that new cases on Wednesday all had links to known sources and were largely confined to the northern beaches. She said the northern beaches would be split into two zones at Narrabeen Bridge from Thursday, with those to the north remaining in lockdown and, from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, those to the south allowed 10 guests into their home.
Victoria regards all of greater Sydney and the NSW Central Coast as being in a “red zone”, with no residents from those areas allowed to cross the border.
After the northern beaches outbreak, the Victorian government requested the assistance of 200 to 300 ADF troops at the NSW-Victoria border, but was turned down.
General Frewen confirmed that the ADF had also on Wednesday rejected a Queensland government request for about 150 troops to bolster border checkpoints, a decision that Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan described as “disappointing”.
State border closures have been a contentious policy nationally during the COVID-19 crisis, but in response to Sydney’s northern beaches outbreak this week, Victoria joined Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania in restricting visitors from greater Sydney.
Victoria’s coronavirus logistics chief, Jeroen Weimar, has said the Victorian border would remain closed to Sydneysiders until at least Christmas.
He revealed that 35 people had been detained in Victoria’s quarantine hotels over the past five days after flying into Melbourne Airport from NSW “red zones”, and Victoria Police said more than 100 motorists had been refused entry from NSW since Monday morning.
General Frewen, however, said ADF support was intended to be “for emergency support beyond the capacity of states or territories, on a short-term basis”.
The ADF senior officer said while he wanted to keep some personnel fresh after a year that began with bushfires, this “isn’t an issue of the cupboard being bare of resources”.
“This is about managing priorities, watching contingencies and responding where the greatest need is domestically. Right now, that is not borders.”
General Frewen said the ADF would reconsider its position on border assistance if the NSW outbreak worsened but other operations were more important, such as a deployment leaving Brisbane for Fiji on Thursday after a tropical cyclone hit the province of Bua this week.
“I do want to make the point that Victoria has received more support through [the pandemic] than any other jurisdiction,” he said.
“We have 250 people helping in hotel quarantine and other areas. We stand ready and willing to assist. I think our work at … three Defence bases in Victoria is a sign of that.”
A spokeswoman for the Victorian Premier said it was understandable the ADF wanted to scale back its coronavirus response in September when most states were on a pathway to reopening, but “things have changed since then, and that is why a request for assistance was made to the ADF”.
“There is no greater community safety issue in Victoria right now than dealing with coronavirus and the Prime Minister has always said any request would be considered. Victoria reserves its right to request the support of the ADF … to keep Victorians safe.”
Victoria’s police union chief, Wayne Gatt, said some of the 700 officers redeployed to NSW border checkpoints had been asked to go without meals or bring their own sleeping bags due to a lack of supplies.
“It is very difficult to deploy meals at those [more remote] locations. I’m not happy about that and we’ve been working very, very hard behind the scenes to identify cases where this is occurring,” Mr Gatt said.
The operation to set up 31 checkpoints across the 1200 kilometre border was still ramping up on Wednesday, and Victoria Police “does not have the capability as an organisation to roll out temporary accommodation for all members,” Mr Gatt said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who for months pushed for a Christmas without state border closures, said in his last media appearance on Monday that patrolling borders was “not something the Defence Force is doing any longer”. About 23,000 ADF troops have worked domestically on bushfire and coronavirus responses this year.
Former finance minister Mathias Cormann said in September when ADF troops were withdrawn from borders that “in the end it’s the states that want to impose state borders”.
“If that’s what they want to do … then it’s a matter for the states to ensure they’ve got the means and tools in place to manage those borders.”
Speaking on Wednesday morning from a police base camp at Cann River where about 100 tents had been pitched, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent acknowledged the logistical operation was significant.
The border was closed for part of the year by NSW authorities and Mr Nugent said police were working to mirror the checkpoint locations they used.
“This is quite different from our perspective because this is the first time Victoria Police has actually closed the borders,” he said.
Also yesterday, Mr Weimar confirmed that all close contacts of a 15-year-old Melbourne girl who tested positive to COVID-19 on Monday had returned negative results.
It comes after confirmation on Tuesday night that all secondary contacts of the girl (contacts of close contacts) were released from isolation after returning negative COVID-19 tests.
The girl, who lives in the Moonee Valley local government area in Melbourne, travelled home with her family from Sydney’s northern beaches by car last Friday. She was tested on Sunday and returned a positive result on Monday.
The Victorian Department of Health has confirmed that after checking the family’s phone data, there have been no exposure sites in Victoria linked to the girl, as the family did not stop in Victoria on their drive home, and the girl did not leave the house before getting tested.
With Rachael Dexter, Matt Dennien
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.