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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