Member for Mildura Ali Cupper and Mildura Rural City Councillor Mark Eckel.

VICTORIAN Premier Daniel Andrews has been asked to consider easing restrictions in regional areas that are COVID-19 free, something he has said he may be open to. 

Speaking in the wake of the Premier’s announcement earlier this week that the planned restriction easing was being put on hold in part and some measures tightened, Member for Mildura Ali Cupper said that while the development was disappointing and frustrating, it showed just how quickly things can change with this deadly virus.

“The changes mean that people will only be allowed five visitors to their home, while only 20 people will be able in pubs, restaurants and cafes,” she said. 

“Thankfully, businesses like cinemas, gyms, museums and theatres were still be able to reopen this week and importantly – especially for the small-town pubs in my electorate – the need for a meal with a drink was still lifted.”

Ms Cupper said that it was encouraging to hear Premier Andrews say the government has left the door open for tailored changes to the way restrictions are lifted and there is a possibility of applying restrictions in a geographical sense.

“That could see regional Victorian areas like ours, where there have been no active cases of the coronavirus in a long time, having restrictions eased more quickly,” she said.

“If the Chief Health Officer says it would be too dangerous to do this, then we would say don’t do it − we don’t want clusters developing here. 

“But if they say a tailored approach is safe, then we want them to do that and provide some hope to our business community that they can get back on track as soon as possible, because they are feeling it most.

“I will not pressure Premier Andrews or the Government to do anything potentially unsafe, however I will be pushing for them to work with health officials to do whatever possible to lift restrictions in regional areas like ours safely and as soon as possible.”

In joining with Ms Cupper in the call for an easing of restrictions in regional areas like Mildura, Councillor Mark Eckel, who holds the Economic Development and Tourism portfolio said that the Premier and the Government have to respect how regional centres like Mildura have responded to the COVID-19 situation in the way that they have adhered to the strict protocols imposed in recent months.

“Mildura is handling this crisis very well – businesses are handling it well,” he said.

“I and two of my fellow Councillors were turned away from a local restaurant the other night because that business had reached the maximum number of patrons that they could have in there at any one time – we were able to go next door to another restaurant instead. It was good to see a business doing the right thing in difficult circumstances.

“The point I made when I spoke in regard to the Draft Budget at Council’s special meeting recently, was that we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day and so from a planning perspective for businesses it is very hard on them and we need to ensure that in addition to representing the community, we also support our local businesses through this difficult time.”

Cr Eckel said that Mildura Regional Development in association with Council was taking those issues into account in regard to the recovery plan for Mildura.

“We will be targeting those businesses in need and we have had more than 165 claims for assistance in recent weeks and Council’s Community Recovery Fund will be used to ease some of that burden on a case by case application and not only for business, but across the community,” he said.

“We are calling on Councils to be given the opportunity to have the conversation with the State Government in regard to what happens from a regional perspective going forward.

“Our region is going to expect an increase in visitations and so I believe the Government needs to recognise this and give local economies the time to plan and welcome the visitors. 

“Particularly when destinations like ours are spending significant dollars in marketing strategies to get people into our communities and I believe we do social distancing better than populated cities and therefore my question remains what appropriate incentive can the State Government provide our communities in regional Victoria? “