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Australia Fears Hebel's dirt mound will do little to deter illegal border crossings as shires foot COVID bills

01:30  09 august  2021
01:30  09 august  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Hebel is already struggling financially but locals are having to pay for border protection measures they say won't work. Border shires throughout Queensland say they're struggling to keep state lines sealed. The government has thanked one council for its "important role", but hasn't offered to stump up any cash. Publican Frank Deshon said he was worried the mound on Hebel Goodooga road, erected by the Balonne Shire Council, would not be all that difficult to traverse. "I think that is a general concern right along the border that there are many back tracks along the border ," the Hebel Hotel co-owner said.

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A dirt partition is all that stands between New South Wales and the Queensland town of Hebel and locals fear it will do little to stop anyone determined to cross the border.

Publican Frank Deshon said he was worried the mound on Hebel Goodooga road, erected by the Balonne Shire Council, would not be all that difficult to traverse.

"I think that is a general concern right along the border that there are many back tracks along the border," the Hebel Hotel co-owner said.

"If you have someone you know, who's deadset on wanting to get past it, you know they probably could."

The Balonne Shire Council has been forced to foot the bill for blocking the region's back roads since the beginning of the pandemic and Mayor Samantha O'Toole said the Queensland government had knocked back several requests for assistance.

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"It's really frustrating that we're still dealing with this 15 or 16 months into the pandemic, and still dealing with really basic discussion around border closures," she said.

"Obviously it has been an effective tool for Queensland in the past by doing the border closures, but it's not been without its challenges for local government."

The dirt mound and other border measures are costing the council more than $250,000, which equates to a four per cent rate rise for locals.

'Rates are dear enough'

Local Catherine Cargnoni said she was concerned about what a rate increase would mean for the town's 60 residents.

"The residents that do live in town, most of them are elderly and probably on some sort of pension or limited income, so a rate rise for them, I think that would impact heavily on them," Ms Cargnoni said.

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Hebel Hotel co-owner Ned Deshon said he thought the state government should pay.

"The shire the rates are dear enough as they are," he said.

"They should chip in and help these border towns."

Short end of the stick

There are up to 1,000 local back roads into Queensland and many shires have had to improvise to block border crossings, often by banking up dirt.

Greg Hallam from the Local Government Association of Queensland said the body had urged the state government to put aside funds for border closures in future.

"Up to $2 million to assist those six or seven councils along the Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory borders," he said.

"We've said again and again — it's not a lot of money, but it is a lot for these shires and it can be as high as 15 per cent for these ratepayers.

"It's just unfair and un-Australian."

State won't cop police bill

Further west, the Paroo Shire Council estimated it was at least $400,000 out of pocket.

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Mayor Suzette Beresford said the shire had provided amenities for police enforcing the border closure including portaloos, power generators, water and fuel.

Cr Beresford said she had written to the government in late June asking for reimbursement and received a response last week.

"They're thanking council for continuing to play an important role in keeping local communities safe across Queensland," Cr Beresford said.

"There isn't anything there about looking at paying expenditure that we've incurred to date."

One size not fitting all

Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the government was "supporting border councils by providing stimulus funding for local initiatives that create jobs, upgrade infrastructure and improve their communities".

"This includes $1.14m to Paroo Shire [Council] through our COVID Works for Queensland program," he said.

But all 77 Queensland councils have received COVID Works for Queensland funding, not just those that share borders with other states.

Cr Beresford said COVID stimulus funding would not necessarily balance the books.

"It wouldn't be the most appropriate way, because that funding usually has to be spent in a specific way on new projects and there are guidelines to follow," she said.

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This is interesting!