The Andrews Government’s border exemption scheme has been labelled “inhumane” and “unjust” by the Victorian Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman Deborah Glass released her findings into the Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions program on Tuesday. The program was designed to prevent people entering Victoria during its most recent Covid outbreak.
The investigation found the state’s health department received 33,252 exemption applications to enter the state between July 9 and September 14.
But only eight per cent were granted.
Among the complainants included parents who sought an exemption to see their dying daughter.
“She is terminal, palliative and [at the] end of life. We are being treated inhumanly … [by a person] making a decision taking weeks we don’t have,” the complainant said.
In total, there were 315 complaints including from stranded souls paying double rent with no job, caravanning pensioners with no internet access who were asked for documents they did not have, and a farmer afraid of having to destroy her animals when she could not get home.
Applicants were asked to give “extensive” evidence including statutory declarations and proof of residence. Despite scaling up its exemption team from 20 staff in July to 285 by early September, those responsible for categorising and prioritising applications were expected to complete 50 per hour or one every 30 seconds.
While Ms Glass did not criticise the scheme, and said it “was not wrong” or “unlawful”, the problem was in how it was executed.
“It appeared to us that the department put significant resources into keeping people out rather than helping them find safe ways to get home,” she said.
“The whole scheme failed to comprehend the very real need for many people to come and go across the border for a whole range of reasons, even in the face of official warnings.”
Ms Glass added the system had “unjust outcomes” resulting in “some of the most questionable decisions I have seen in my over seven years as Ombudsman”.
“Getting it wrong will not always result in the torrent of angst and grief we saw in this investigation, but how much could have been spared if more compassion had been shown,” she said.
“We know hardworking public health officials have a tough job, especially in a pandemic. But the effect of a complex and constrained bureaucracy meant some outcomes were downright unjust, even inhumane.”
Queensland Premier grilled over borders
The premier expects Queensland’s eligible population to reach 80 per cent fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by some point this week.
She was grilled by ABC News Breakfast over concerns the rules could change again leading to the borders being closed ahead of or around Christmas.
“No, they should feel confident. Queenslanders have done a great job,” the premier told the program.
“We are at the 80 per cent double dose this week. We are sticking with the national plan.”
Ms Palaszczuk said it was different to last year when the border was closed to NSW around the Christmas period after an outbreak on Sydney’s Northern Beaches because of the vaccination rates.
“I want everyone to have a good Christmas and I hope we get to see you in our beautiful state soon,” she said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.