Ballina MP Tamara Smith has been in discussions with other leaders about various regional issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ballina MP Tamara Smith has been in discussions with other leaders about various regional issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MP in discussions on urgent housing, other COVID-19 issues

THOSE travelling in NSW without a reasonable excuse will now face fines of up to $11,000 and up to six months in jail.

The new orders, signed by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Monday night, address a host of issues raised by Byron Shire Council.

The council voted at last Thursday's meeting to ask for long-distance bus services bringing visitors to the region to be halted.

They also agreed to ask Airbnb, Stayz and similar short term holiday letting platforms to stop marketing properties as ideal locations for self-isolation.

Airbnb has not responded to a request for comment and Stayz declined to comment.

But the new rules mean non-residents cannot travel to the Byron Shire from other regions without risking serious penalties.

The council launched the #ByronStayHome campaign last week in a bid to keep residents home and keep would-be visitors away during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Ballina MP Tamara Smith had expressed concerns about some people planning to travel to the region and welcomed the measures.

The rules, effective from March 31, prohibit people from leaving their homes without a reasonable excuse (which includes buying food and essentials, going to work or school, exercising, obtaining medical care or medical supplies).

Attending a wedding or funeral is permitted, subject to ministerial guidelines on social distancing.

Border debate

AFTER Queensland closed its borders last week, Ms Smith said she'd raised the possibility of a reciprocal closure on the NSW side with the National cabinet,

"The problem with that option is that closing the border would mean that our regional police would be diverted from other essential public health monitoring in the community like ensuring people with the disease stay in quarantine and ensuring people and businesses comply with public health directions," Ms Smith said.

NSW residents can still travel to Queensland on regional grounds, including for work or to attend medical appointments.

Emergency housing

Ms Smith said her office is exploring options with the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services as to whether help can be provided to people experiencing homelessness.

She has suggested suitable, eligible people could stay in local caravan parks or other vacant accommodation, "like is done during fires and floods for evacuating residents when people are housed in commercial accommodation".

"With the right agency support using vacant accommodation in our area to provide sanctuary for those who are living in cars, couch surfing or rough sleeping so that they can socially isolate could be a very workable model," Ms Smith said.

"It would also provide some income to those businesses.

"What we don't want though is people who have high social and health needs dumped into accommodation without strong support."