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Ombudsman damns cross-border permit system

Media statement

December 7, 2020

Tania Maxwell says the Victorian government must mandate the right of Victorians to return home during a future public health epidemic, pandemic or disaster.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria has also called on the government to apologise to thousands kept from home and forced to rely on relatives, friends, caravans or tents for a roof and a bed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Maxwell said the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into Victoria’s border-crossing permit directions, released today, showed:

  • 33 per cent of 2649 exemption applications were granted to attend a funeral or visit a loved one at the end of their life
  • 8pc of 10,812 exemption applications were granted to return home for health, wellbeing, care and compassionate reasons
  • 4pc of 971 exemption applications were granted to return to care for animals
  • 75pc of 553 exemption applications were granted for emergency relocation

“The Ombudsman’s report into the failings of the Victorian government’s cross-border permit system will be bittersweet for thousands of Victorians prevented from returning home during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Throughout months of border closures, I raised with the offices of the Health Minister and Cross-Border Commissioner time-and-again the pleas from Victorians stopped by the government’s Travel Permit System from returning home,” Ms Maxwell said.

“These residents were denied the right to return home, children were separated from their parents, carers were unable to help loved ones through illness, and families were stopped from seeing a parent or grandparent at their end of life.

“These stories are heartbreaking and this report shows a system completely overwhelmed and ill-equipped to ensure that applications were treated in a compassionate, considered and consistent way.

“The job for the government now is to respond to the Ombudsman’s recommendations and provide a watertight, legal guarantee to Victorians of the right to return home in the event of a similar health or disaster threat.

“Because the pandemic management legislation passed last week by Labor, Reason, Greens, Animal Justice and Transport Matters parties does not enshrine this right in the new laws.

“When the Attorney-General finally sought the DHJP’s view on the pandemic bill on November 18 we said the legislation should mandate that all Victorians have an explicit right to return to home.

“We also said it should mandate a reasoned, fair and consistent process for people to appeal a rejected border permit application.

“But the Ombudsman shows the department directed its significant resources into keeping people out rather than helping them find safe ways to get home.

“She also said the government used the exemption system as a blunt instrument that led to unjust outcomes, potentially for thousands of people, and described these as some of the most questionable decisions she had reviewed in her seven years in the job.

“The government’s actions also damaged public trust.”

Link

Read Why Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party opposes the government’s pandemic management bill

Border communities need business, not brokers

Wangaratta’s Cafe Pre Vue is usually brim with customers on a warm spring morning – but not today (Sep 14) because of unviable patron limits at regional hospitality venues.

STATEMENT

Comments by Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, in response to the Victorian government’s September 13 statement: ‘On-the-ground support for Victoria’s border communities’ –

September 14, 2021

I find it appalling that this is being done now when it would be plain common sense to allow border zone residents to travel both sides of the Murray, and for our many twin communities to operate, as usual, as one.

Our small businesses and cafes, clubs and pubs in places without cases just want to open for normal trade while observing COVID-safe settings. Similarly, skilled farm workers should be able to travel across the zone as seasonal work demands, heeding common rules.

No amount of money put up to activate on-ground ‘border broker’ support will bring small and sole trader business that depend on cross-border commerce back from the brink of bankruptcy, or re-open those which have closed. Nor nor will it provide revenue to fund staff wages.

Today, pub, club and cafe operators indicate they have floorspace capacity for more patrons and yet last week’s new rules say they can seat just 10 people indoors, regardless of venue size. With miserable weather forecast this weekend, how can these businesses remain viable?

Let’s use our respected Cross Border Commissioners to reinstate commerce and common rules in the border zone so places without cases can get back to work.

Border communities deserve respect and reward, not eviction

Letter to editors

September 6, 2021

It’s ironic that five of the Northern Victorian local government areas cut from the border zone on September 2 have at least two things in common.

First, Buloke, Yarriambiack, Benalla, Loddon and Greater Bendigo are places without COVID cases.

Second, the member-communities that comprise these council areas have achieved some of the highest vaccination rates in Victoria, with Buloke’s population recording the state’s top rural count of both first and second doses in the latest Commonwealth local government area vaccination report*.

So, I share the deep disappointment of communities, mayors, councillors and staff whose councils have been dumped from the bubble without consultation or explanation from the state government.

Like the rest of us, they were left to make sense of this statement from Victoria’s Health Department:

‘With over one thousand cases per day, and a trajectory of exponential growth, the risk that NSW poses to Victoria is bigger than ever. That’s why we are reducing the number of communities in the border bubble from 11.59pm on…2 September.’

The border bubble has proved a relief for Northern Victoria’s communities after months and months of disruption.

It’s enabled people to go to work and medical appointments, visit their families, play sport and contribute to their communities in very difficult times. They’ve responded to the pandemic, lived by the rules, gone out and got tested, and kept COVID-safe.

It’s a lesson in risk management that deserves respect, engagement and reward, not eviction.

Tania Maxwell MP
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria
Wangaratta

* First and second dose vaccination % (population aged 15 and over) by local government area

  • Benalla 66.7, 43.8
  • Buloke 71.6, 48.4
  • Greater Bendigo 62.0, 40.7
  • Loddon 62.7, 35.8
  • Yarriambiack 67.0, 41.3

Source data [August 28, 2021]