"At Simonds we stand together with the rest of Victoria and remain committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19."
Those words were posted on construction giant Simonds Group's website at the start of stage four restrictions in Melbourne on August 2 – just a week before group executive director Mark Simonds set sail with members of his family for Queensland on his yacht the Lady Pamela. Also on board was Hannah Fox, whose father, Peter Fox – executive chairman of Linfox – had already made his way to the Sunshine State under a quarantine exemption for truck drivers.
Mark Simonds, his wife, Cheryl, and the Lady Pamela.Credit:A Current Affair
When challenged, Mr Fox told reporters, "I am allowed to reside here. It's completely official." Yet while it may be that wealthy Australians have remained within the letter of the law when it comes to restrictions on movement, we believe the spirit of that law is being abused in ways that undermine governments' message that, as a nation, we are all in this together. If the Simonds Group does "understand the key role we play in the state’s economy and the responsibility that comes with this for our customers, our staff and the wider community", as its August 2 message put it, its boss has a funny way of showing his solidarity.
Late yesterday, the Queensland government revoked its decision to allow the Lady Pamela group a quarantine exemption, forcing them into a two-week lockdown.
Governments working hard to manage their response to this pandemic may be reluctant to become involved in time-consuming and costly stoushes with figures such as Seven boss Kerry Stokes and mining magnate Clive Palmer, who have the money and the clout to demand special consideration of their cases. That makes it all the more important that those with the means to circumvent borders think about the bigger picture.
With NSW apparently prevailing over its latest COVID-19 outbreak and Victoria's lockdown leading to a tapering in the number of cases, while Queensland keeps a wary eye on its own outbreaks and testing, we can ill afford a sentiment to develop that risks are exaggerated and restrictions are arbitrary.
But another vital component in ensuring community compliance with restrictions on movement is that flexibility in the system is aimed at those who really need it.
The pandemic has shown that our state and territory borders do not always properly reflect the shape of people's lives. From Mildura cancer patient Denise Knight to farmers in northern NSW dependent on Queensland centres for specialised workers and equipment, there are ordinary people struggling to do the right thing while keeping their lives and livelihoods intact. South Australian Premier Steven Marshall's reinstatement from midnight Thursday of the 40-kilometre buffer zone for communities along the SA-Victoria border is an example of the kind of approach that could bring much-needed relief to communities that straddle state lines.
Note from the Editor
The Age’s acting editor, Michelle Griffin, writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here.
At a time when a great deal is being asked of some of our poorest citizens, governments need to show that they are sensitive to the needs of those for whom the lockdowns involve genuine privation. Flexibility when dealing with such cases, rather than those of a privileged few with access to holiday residences and super-yachts, is what will guarantee community goodwill and cohesion in the face of the COVID-19 challenge.
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