Cross-border travel restrictions tightened for entry into South Australia, including for essential workers.

The South Australian government has taken steps to reduce the risk associated with cross-border travel in light of the growing challenges across Australia in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 Delta-variant.

As you are aware, Emergency Management (Cross Border Travel —General No 2) (COVID-19) Direction 2021, and Emergency Management (Cross Border Travel—Associated Direction No 40) (COVID-19) Direction 2021 were established to facilitate essential cross-border travel while protecting the South Australian community from COVID-19 infection risk.

The intent of these directions is to ensure people arriving in South Australia, including workers across the resources and energy sector, are subject to requirements and restrictions, or to prohibitions, appropriate to the level of risk posed by those travellers to South Australia.

Due to the constantly evolving nature of the pandemic, restrictions upon all travel to South Australia, including for residents, compassionate reasons, and commercial purposes such as ‘remote and isolated workers’, and ‘specialist workers in essential sectors’, is subject to constant change. Most recently, the observed increase in transmission risk associated with the Delta-variant has resulted in the South Australian government determining that it is necessary to further tighten restrictions, including in respect to essential workers.

In recent weeks, in light of events in South Australia and across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, a revised process for assessing applications for individual travellers – focused on locations visited by them prior to their arrival in our state – has created some uncertainty and delays. I acknowledge the industry’s concerns about the timeliness of decisions and clarity of the process being applied to essential worker applications across the resources and energy sector.

The Department for Energy and Mining has been working closely with industry, SAPOL and SA Health to improve the clarity of the assessment process, timeframes and decision-making criteria so companies can continue to operate efficiently and plan future operations with as great a level of confidence as possible within the dynamic pandemic environment.

Key changes include:

Process changes to ensure that applications reflect up-to-date information, and decision-making is based on the current risk environment and risk exposure of travellers prior to entering South Australia.

  • All Essential Traveller applications require an employer letter in a new format, supplied with the application ahead of each border crossing (other than in respect of specific daily cross-border operations in the Cooper Basin). A template developed for industry for this purpose is available from the COVID-19 page of the Department for Energy and Mining website; companies may choose to include additional supporting information (such as the information set out below) in that letter.
  • In providing this letter, employers are taking responsibility, via a declaration, that the information provided is accurate and up-to-date, and evidence can be supplied to SAPOL on request to support the information provided. It is important that the letters are reviewed for accuracy prior to each application.
  • To support the required declaration, each site must review their existing COVID-19 Risk Management/Mitigation Plans to ensure those plans incorporate all elements described in sections 1, and 3 to 5 of the SA Health template, and ensure that detailed records are being retained by the organisation in relation to the requirements of section 2 of that template.
  • As a primary purpose of these plans is to support travel to South Australia by workers from restricted interstate locations, plans must focus on how risk from that travel to the South Australian community and economy will be first – avoided, and second – mitigated.
  • Essential Traveller approvals for the sector are to be used within 30 days of issue.
  • Consistent with industry’s own worker onboarding processes, the state border process will continue to include an assessment of risk at the time the worker arrives in South Australia.

Assessment processes have been re-aligned with risk, and will ensure that decision timeframes are reduced.

  • Applications from individuals who have been in states with restrictions, but who have not been in areas of highest risk, such as those subject to local ‘lock-down’ orders, will be assessed in accordance with existing processes with which industry is familiar.
  • High-risk areas are determined by the health authorities in each state ahead of an online list being published by the South Australian government, interstate health websites, or www.covidlive.com.au (which consolidates information from across the nation).
  • Applications from individuals who have been in areas of highest risk within the past 14 days will be assessed on a case-by-case basis with input by SA Health to support essential traveller approval.
  • Applications requiring SA Health input for workers from areas of highest risk should submit granular detail on the following matters by email to Health.COVID19RiskMitigation@sa.gov.au:
    • Employee movement within the previous 14 days
    • Employee transit, working and accommodation/messing arrangements in South Australia
    • Why the travel is ‘essential’ at this time - demonstrating that alternate sourcing, remote work, substitution or deferral is not viable
    • Worker vaccination status.

The revised approach, enabled through amendments to the online application process and the newly-updated cross-border travel Associated Direction 40, will continue to be refined in the coming weeks, and will not ameliorate the immediate challenges associated with high-risk areas on the eastern seaboard. The approach seeks to ensure that essential travel decisions by government and by industry reflect risk, are timely and ultimately protect the South Australian community and economy.

The Government acknowledges that the changing Delta-variant environment and related cross-border processes are likely to require companies reliant on interstate workers to make resourcing adjustments to reduce commercial risk and ensure business continuity.

As has been the case over the course of the pandemic, the Department for Energy and Mining, SAPOL and SA Health remain committed to working with the sector as it adapts to the changing environment, to resolve site-specific risks and to plan for events such as maintenance shut-downs.

In parallel to the work on cross border processes, the Department for Energy and Mining has been working closely with the South Australian Chamber of Mining and Energy on broader issues such as the potential for participation in the vaccination roll-out, and the use of rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing across major sites within the sector. I look forward to furthering developments in these areas. I note the likely significance of vaccination to the future operating landscape, and commend industry’s efforts to date in encouraging take-up within your workforces.

I acknowledge the South Australian resources and energy sector’s ongoing support for minimising COVID-19 transmission risk to protect your workforces, your operations and the wellbeing of the South Australian community.

Stay well

Paul Heithersay
Chief Executive
Department for Energy and Mining

Monday 16 August 2021

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The information contained in this resources and energy industry update has been verified by the South Australian Government COVID-19 Public Information Function Support Group coordinated by SA Police.

The Department for Energy and Mining acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of South Australia. We recognise and respect the cultural connections as the Traditional Owners and occupants of the land and waters of South Australia, and that they continue to make a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the State.