Gippsland residents were among thousands caught up in a Covid border permit scheme described in a scathing report from the Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass as “downright unjust, even inhumane.”
The report, which is the result of the Ombudsman’s investigation into the Andrews Labor Government’s failed handling of border entry and the Victorian travel permit system found that the scheme resulted in “some of the most questionable decisions I have seen in my over seven years as Ombudsman.”
The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien said he had been contacted by numerous Gippsland residents who were personally affected by the mishandling of the permit exemption process.
“This scheme saw thousands of Victorian citizens, including many from my electorate, indefinitely locked out of their home state and effectively homeless.
“I heard from farmers who couldn’t get home to tend to livestock, elderly residents left digging into retirement funds to pay for indefinite accommodation and children separated from parents with no clear explanation as to why.
“At the time I called on the Government to allow a sensible and safe process whereby Victorians who were vaccinated and had negative test results, should have been allowed back in, with quarantine arrangements.”
Between June and September there were 33,252 border exemption applications assessed with less than 8 per cent approved.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found that Department of Health staff were given as little as 30 seconds to assess applications.
In her report Ms Glass stated that the Border Directions themselves appeared to provide for broad decision-making discretion, but in practice, it was exercised narrowly.
“Failing to exercise discretion fairly, not giving reasons for decisions, failing to offer a right of review – these can all damage public trust in those who make decisions, and ultimately, in government,” Ms Glass said in the foreword to her report.
“If there is a next time – we cannot let this happen again.”
Mr O’Brien said while it was great to see this matter investigated thoroughly it was now crucial to see real changes as a result.
“I’ve said all throughout this pandemic that the Government’s response must be a balanced one – this report of the Ombudsman is a clear indicator that the Andrews Labor Government missed the mark.”