A woman who has repeatedly been denied entry to NSW to see her terminally ill mum is fighting for an exemption that allows her into the state.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Katie Donaldson would travel to the Blue Mountains in NSW from Victoria about every three weeks to visit her mum who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.
She provides her dad, who is her mum’s primary carer, some much-needed respite while also spending time with her mother.
Living in the small town of Harston in Victoria, about 70 kilometres from the Victorian-NSW border, where no coronavirus cases have been reported, Ms Donaldson thought she would be eligible for a border exemption on compassionate grounds.
However, she has been denied by the NSW Government despite her extreme circumstances.
“I applied for a permit when the permit system came out and waited more than a week to have my application reviewed. I called Service NSW every day asking where my permit application was up to but they couldn’t give me any answers,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“They kept telling me to drive to the border and get through without a permit but I’m a law-abiding citizen, I wanted to do the right thing.
“I had a letter from my mum’s doctor and after more than a week passed I called Service NSW again. They said they would write an email to NSW Health to try and speed up the application and so I drove to the border as they suggested with the letter from mum’s professor and a statutory declaration that I hadn’t been near metro Melbourne.”
A police officer let her through and she arrived in the Blue Mountains on July 17. She said however not long after she arrived she received a call from NSW Health telling her she shouldn’t be there and asking how she got over the border.
‘Is your mum going to die in next two weeks?’
“I explained to them Service NSW advised me to do this but they said I had to leave the state immediately,” Ms Donaldson said.
“The same person then called me three minutes later asking if I had left NSW yet. He called back a third time that night and said, ‘Look, is your mum going to die in the next two weeks because that’s the only way you’ll get a permit’.
“In that moment my whole world felt like it was crumbling. Why do I have to justify how long my mum has left to a stranger when I have a letter from her doctor and a statutory declaration, stating she has a terminal illness?”
Ms Donaldson said the phone calls continued until Sunday July 19, when she was granted a permit for just 24 hours.
After contacting the office of NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard more than a month ago, Ms Donaldson said she only received a reply last Wednesday informing her NSW Health do not approve permits on compassionate grounds to care for loved ones, and she could move to NSW if she flew to Sydney from Melbourne and quarantined for 14 days.
She would also have to prove she was renting a house in the state.
However, simply moving to NSW is not a feasible option for Ms Donaldson, who also has a husband and two young children.
“I offered to isolate and get tested and isolate until I got the result, and said I wouldn’t step out of my car until I got to NSW but it’s a no at every turn,” she said.
“I cannot for the life of me fathom it.”
‘I thought we were one country’
Ms Donaldson’s family runs a business in Harston as well as a large farm and she said she shouldn’t have to move interstate because her circumstance didn’t tick a box on somebody else’s piece of paper.
“This is our home and where our children are raised,” Ms Donaldson said.
“Nor should I feel like I have to move, this is Australia right, I thought we were one country?
“There’s a flow-on effect too, if I move then my husband never gets to see me or our children, as he has to run our business which is here in regional Victoria.
“I would have thought I was at zero risk, given there is no coronavirus in my area, and not only that, why would I take coronavirus to my dying mother?”
NSW Health says on its website border exemptions can be granted on compassionate grounds for the provision of “within days of death” support, or to attend a funeral or memorial service.
It says all cases are reviewed by a medical team for eligibility.
However, Ms Donaldson said her mum is terminal and she doesn’t know how to prove how long somebody had to live.
While she sits in Victoria waiting for somebody else to decide her fate, Ms Donaldson said she did not know who to turn to.
“I don’t really know what to do. I’m just over 60 kilometres from the border zone and have a terminally ill parent I’m trying to care for and I’m stuck in Victoria,” she said.
“Obviously my mum is upset for me and she wants the family together. It’s important to me for my children to spend time with my mum while she’s able.
“It’s really hard to communicate with her, the type of MND my mum has has taken her voice and people say, ‘At least you can call her’, but no, I can’t. It is just the most horrible disease.”
Forced to consider extreme action
Ms Donaldson said she was being forced to consider taking extreme lengths like contacting a lawyer.
“I’m just an ordinary mum who wants to see my mum, I shouldn’t have to contact a lawyer. It sort of feels like this is not Australia – I feel ostracised by my own country. I don’t know what to do,” she said.
“It’s a whole new world to me. I’m just a normal person, I don’t want a lawyer but I feel I’ve got no choice.
“I feel defeated and stuck.”
NSW Health told Yahoo News Australia it was restricted from commenting on individual cases due to privacy.
“A dedicated team of medical professionals assess every request for entry to NSW on compassionate grounds,” a spokesperson said.
“These decisions are not made lightly, and all decisions are discussed with the individual.”
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