Wangi Wangi family separated by border closure call for Queensland government to make changes

FAMILY: Wangi Wangi couple Laura Goff and Chris Bennett with new daughter Adalyn.

FAMILY: Wangi Wangi couple Laura Goff and Chris Bennett with new daughter Adalyn.

Fly-in, fly-out worker Chris Bennett just wants to be able to regularly hold his daughter. She is seven weeks old.

His partner, Laura Goff, just wants the first-time parents to be able to spend as much time as they can raising Adalyn together.

But they can't.

The young family has been separated by Queensland's strict border closure.

After spending six weeks at home in Wangi Wangi for the recent birth, Mr Bennett - a fitter in mines at Moranbah in North Queensland - was forced to say a difficult goodbye when the time came to return to work last month.

He doesn't know when he will see his girls again.

He has spent the past two weeks isolated in a Brisbane hotel. The mandatory quarantine cost $2800.

Working a seven-on, seven-off roster, returning home for a week off would require another round of quarantine to re-enter Queensland.

Not only would the family be up for the quarantine costs, but Mr Bennett would lose a week's work during the fortnight's isolation.

It is simply not viable.

"It's definitely hard to leave a newborn daughter that has just been brought into the world and not knowing when I'm going to see them next," Mr Bennett, 27, said from his hotel room, where he spent his first Father's Day.

ISOLATED: Mr Bennett's quarantine hotel room, which has no open windows.

ISOLATED: Mr Bennett's quarantine hotel room, which has no open windows.

The couple used to live in Airlie Beach but relocated to Wangi Wangi in January to be closer to relatives ahead of the birth of their first child.

When the border first shut in March, Mr Bennett spent three months living with mates in Queensland away from his pregnant partner.

The couple breathed a sigh of relief when the border reopened in July with the due date edging closer. During one of Mr Bennett's weeks at home, the baby arrived early and he took six weeks leave.

But the border closed again during that time.

"The first time when the border closed, I had that date of when Laura was due that I knew when I was going home," Mr Bennett said.

"But now, I don't know when I'm going home. It's sad. The missus has held herself together really well, but she's got to, we don't have a choice, really. It's frustrating, the whole situation."

Like many FIFO workers, Mr Bennett works seven days on, seven days off. It is a roster which allows him to enjoy an active lifestyle and, now that he and his partner have a child, spend plenty of time together as a family.

The couple have been together for three years and are accustomed to FIFO work. They are prepared to make the sacrifice of not seeing each other every second week to get ahead in life.

But they can not fathom the inflexibility of Queensland's border policy.

"We choose to do FIFO work, I've done it for six years, but the issue is not knowing when I'm going home now," Mr Bennett said.

"Going forward, even if they do open the borders, how do we know they're not going to shut them again and I'm back in that situation.

"They haven't brought out a definition of a hotspot. She just makes it up as she goes, this Queensland premier. At least if she said, 'if there's going to be X amount of cases [in a region], I'm going to close the border' - you'd have a bit of a guideline."

The Newcastle Herald has been told of at least one Hunter family relocating to Queensland because a FIFO-working father could not regularly return home. Registrations with Newcastle Airport when it was pushing to resume Brisbane flights earlier this year suggest a dozen more FIFO workers from the Hunter might have faced a similar situation. Mr Bennett said about 20 FIFO workers at his mine from NSW or Victoria were caught in the same position.

He said it was not financially viable to return and his family would have to consider moving if the border remained shut long term.

"It's not even viable to be doing it every two months," he said. "What gets to me, is everyone who crosses the border is getting thrown in the same bucket.

"It's sufficient for them to have roadside pop-up tests for people who have got COVID symptoms; people get tested, they get their results back in two days via SMS and if they come back clear, they're all good to continue what they're doing.

"But people who just want to cross the border have got to come in and do the fourteen days quarantine.

"Why can't they just do the COVID test for people who want to cross the border?

"I could do it prior to flying up and even if I had to do one up here and wait two days.

"They've got all these other safety measures, wearing your masks at the airport and [getting] temperature tested.

TIME TOGETHER: The young family.

TIME TOGETHER: The young family.

"They should be able to help out workers to be able to still work away."

Stephen Smyth, the Queensland president of the CFMEU's mining and energy division, said Mr Bennett's situation was not a one off but the state's coal industry was "not heavily reliant on interstate FIFO workers".

"Most affected FIFO workers made alternative arrangements when the border closures began earlier this year, with some moving locally," he said. Exemptions from the quarantine ... are available for workers in the mining industry assessed to have critical skills. Border closures have created difficult circumstances for some individual workers and we urge employers to work with them ... to support families."

Mr Bennett said he was not eligible for an exemption working as a tradesman.

The fact he flies out of Newcastle Airport further frustrates the family given there are no active coronavirus cases in the Hunter.

"There's none, or very little, from the Central Coast right up to the Queensland border," Mr Bennett said.

The Queensland government considers all of NSW a COVID-19 hotspot. At last week's National Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister tried to get the states to agree to a COVID "hotspot" definition to pave the way for borders to reopen.

But Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk remains resolute about her state's border policy.

She said last week the border would not reopen until NSW has two incubation periods of no community transmission. A potential reopening before Christmas has also been mentioned.

Ms Goff, 29, said it had been a difficult three months separated from her partner earlier in the year, but it would likely be tougher now that Adalyn had arrived.

"I try not to get too caught up in the fact that he works away because that's entirely our choice, but it is hard knowing that I don't know when he is going to come back," she said.

"He usually comes back and we get a full week of family stuff, but we just don't get that at the moment."

She said watching 400 AFL employees and family members spend quarantine at a resort was hard to cop.

"Every day I get up and I listen to the TV to see if they've given a date yet [to reopen the border] or allowed any extra exemptions," she said.

"They've just let a whole football code go over the border and stay in a hotel, with their wives having cocktails with each other not social distancing at the swim-up bar, and Chris is in quarantine and I'm trying to take photos and videos of our baby smiling for the first time so he is not missing out.

"I feel like there is an easier way than making an Australian pay $2800 for quarantine [to cross a state border]."