I have crossed five state lines in the midst of the pandemic, and what I have experienced may shock you
No one has been spared by the current pandemic.
As my home state of Victoria plunged into a devastating second wave of coronavirus, my family and I were trying to move to Western Australia for work.
But it took three weeks and five states to get to our final destination. What we have seen and experienced along the way shows how ill-equipped Australia’s border system today is to handle the spread of the coronavirus, and how it risks causing us all to fail.
My husband and I, along with our three children aged seven, six and three, have just moved from Torquay in Victoria to Kununurra in Western Australia, where we will continue our work with Indigenous Australians – my husband working with the traditional owners around the impact of the closure of the Argyle diamond mine and me with the Wanta Aboriginal Corporation.
When it became clear that the Washington state borders weren’t going to reopen, we decided to take the plunge and quarantine ourselves… the kids and all.
We did everything right – we had our G2G pass issued to enter WA and obtained permission to stay in an Airbnb to quarantine at our expense.
We booked flights and packed our whole life in 12 days so we could get there ASAP.
If someone has moved with children, 12 days is no small feat.
Then the police called …
Then, as we were literally putting our bags in the taxi to the airport, the WA police called.
Our entry exemption was canceled, effectively immediately.
It felt like a massive gut reaction to a spike in Victorian COVID-19 cases to us, and it came without any warning.
We had previously rented our house in Torquay and the news effectively left us homeless. Our furniture and our car were on their way across the country.
We begged. We pleaded. We asked that our case be escalated. But there was no negotiation: just a very firm “no, you are not welcome”.
We were told that if we got on the plane we would go back to the other end and be fined $ 1,000 for every day we stayed.
Victoria: State # 1
With no home, no belongings, three kids in tow, and our livelihoods in jeopardy, we made a quick decision: fly to Alice Springs to quarantine there in the hope that WA would then leave us. enter.
While we waited for the next available flight, we stayed in Melbourne. The epicenter of Victoria’s second wave was our number one state.
New South Wales: State # 2
The next available flight to Alice Springs was through Sydney and required an overnight stay.
We had valid exemptions to transit through NSW and enter the Northern Territory. We left, nervous the whole time as we boarded a plane from Melbourne and arrived in Sydney.
Upon landing, we were greeted by officials from NSW Health who interviewed and discharged us, instructed to only proceed to and from our hotel.
We were given a sticker to classify us as having transited and processed.
Northern Territory: State # 3
The next morning we flew to Alice Springs. Upon landing in the NT, we were greeted by Australian Federal Police.
With five people and five candidates to assess, we were preparing for a lengthy interrogation.
However, only a few questions were asked and boxes were checked as to where we had traveled in the past 14 days and where we were planning to quarantine.
In less than two minutes we were sent on our way. Welcome to territory three.
We settled into our quarantine in Alice Springs and woke up three days later to an email informing us that due to the difficulties caused our exemption from entering WA had been re-approved.
It was very clear to us that quarantine in Alice Springs would not count for anything in the West.
We cut our losses and started making arrangements to get to Perth and start the second quarantine round.
South Australia: State # 4
Alice Springs’ next flight to Perth was via Adelaide, so South Australia became the fourth state to welcome us on our quest to reach WA.
We packed our bags again and tried to eat as much of the $ 300 worth of groceries I had arranged to be delivered to our quarantine accommodation before taking a cab to Alice Springs airport for the first leg of the flight to HER.
We were told it was okay to leave the NT quarantine, as we have simply “become WA’s problem”.
In Adelaide, we were once again welcomed by AFP – five applications and five evaluations.
After a short conversation we were taken to word of where we had been and no further checks were made.
We were free to roam the airport for a five hour transit before our flight to Perth.
Western Australia: State # 5
After hours at the airport, we finally caught a flight to Perth and left for our fifth and final state.
We arrived late and with a dead weight asleep of a three-year-old and two dingy kids, we again presented ourselves to AFP for treatment.
They had no idea of our previous trip and while very helpful we could have said anything to them.
We repeated our story for the fifth time, boxes were checked and once again we were sent to our next Airbnb to begin quarantine.
What have we learned: our states must work together
We drove through five states in the middle of a pandemic just to get to WA as we were rudely and abruptly locked in at the 12th hour.
While we were honest and did everything that authorities asked us to do, if we had indeed caught the coronavirus along the way, we could have spread it across the country.
What is clear is that each Australian state or territory has its own processes and procedures.
What else is clear is that they don’t seem to care or know anything about each other. The system across this country feels like it’s completely set up to fail.
It’s not at all surprising to me that people are bending the rules one way or another.
We have been told what to do (and more specifically what not to do) for months now, but in return we have a right to expect that we are protected so that people don’t lie or sneak around. a path through an invisible line.
How can a country be so separate and function so individually in the midst of a global pandemic? We must work together to keep everyone safe.
I don’t pretend to know anything about how to handle a pandemic. What I do know is that if our state and our territories don’t start talking to each other, working together and caring about each other, then people will continue to fall through the cracks because the current system seems to be filled with it.
Clare Smith works for the Wanta Aboriginal Corporation and has just moved to Kununurra with her family.