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There will be a next time. We must do better.

  • 16 December 2021
On 7 December, the Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, presented her Investigation into decision-making under the Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions to the State Parliament. It makes for confronting reading. Under Victoria’s Border Directions after 23 July, people in NSW (and later the ACT), including Victorian residents, were effectively prevented from entering the State. Their only option was to request an exemption for a number of specified reasons including ‘attending a funeral or end of life event or returning home for health, wellbeing, care or compassionate reasons or for any other reason under a general discretion’.

Between 9 July and 14 September 2021, the Department received 33,252 exemption applications, of which only 8 per cent were granted. The overwhelming majority were not specifically rejected but ‘closed for other reasons’ — often because they had ‘expired’ when the Department was not able to process them before the intended travel date had passed and the applicants were given no option but to start the entire process again.

The Ombudsman notes that ‘the vast majority of applications did not get to a decision-maker at all’, meaning that thousands of Victorians were prevented from returning home for no reason other than a bureaucratic failure to even consider their application. Those who did have their application considered were frequently rejected without any reasons being provided, leaving them stuck outside their home state with no idea of how to proceed.

These statistics are bad enough, but the specific stories are even worse. One person notes that their application was denied without even being looked at, and their father in Victoria passed away the next day on the Sunday. They were one of the 1772 applicants who were denied an exemption to attend a funeral or be with relative at the end of life. Many people lost their jobs, others were left homeless or paying double rent that they could not afford, still more were denied entry despite the need to care for relatives or animals. Many applicants were also denied access to desperately needed medical services. One notes that they had kidney infections were bleeding substantially, but couldn’t see their doctors. Another that their sister had been diagnosed with gallbladder cancer that had travelled to other parts of her body, but was still denied an exception and told the diagnosis was not serious enough. 

The overwhelming impression noted in the investigation was a lack of compassion and humanity in dealing with