Victorian Ombudsman launches investigation into border exemptions

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The Victorian Ombudsman has today launched an investigation into COVID-19 related interstate travel permits, exceptions and exemptions.

More than 80 complaints have been made to the Ombudsman’s office from people wishing to enter Victoria, many who are Victorian residents trying to come home.

It comes after Victoria’s Chief Health Officer declared the entire New South Wales an “extreme risk zone” and Victoria closed its border on July 9 this year.

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said while individual cases had been, and continue to be, raised with the Department of Health and several had been resolved, complaints were continuing, raising potentially systemic issues about departmental decision-making.

“The situation is increasingly urgent with the extended lockdown. Some people are telling my office they face effective homelessness, stuck interstate with nowhere else to go,” Ms Glass said.

“Cases that have come into my office have raised concerns about the exercise of discretion under the relevant public health directions.

“This will be a swift investigation to help the Department identify if urgent improvements are needed in processes and decision making.”

Ms Glass said she acknowledged how hard public health officials were working to keep Victorians safe in this public health emergency.

“Decisions about border permits will invariably involve a balance of individual rights with those of the broader community. But it will be important to ensure that balance has been fairly assessed,” she said.

This investigation will examine the Department’s exercise of discretion involving decisions on interstate travel permits, exceptions and exemptions and relevant human rights considerations.

It will also consider several specific matters that have come to the Ombudsman’s office, including exemption requests from:

• children wanting to return home to be with their parents after their school in NSW closed

• a woman wanting to return home to care for her adult daughter after being permitted to leave Victoria to attend a funeral in NSW

• a student wanting to return home to be with his family for his health and wellbeing; and

• a woman wanting to return home to her farm to care for her animals.

The investigation is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Ms Glass will then report to Parliament and the public on her findings.

No further comments will be made on this investigation while it is active.