The Victoria’s ombudsman is investigating the State Health Department’s handling of border exemptions following complaints from more than 80 stranded Victorians.
The watchdog’s study will examine the department’s use of discretion in decisions on interstate travel permits, exemptions, exceptions and relevant human rights considerations.
Among Victorians who have complained are children who want to be with their parents after their school in NSW closed, and a woman who was stuck in NSW after a funeral.
Victoria closed its border with NSW on July 9 after declaring its northern neighbor an “extreme risk zone”.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said cases of Victorians trying to get home had been raised with the state health department and several have been resolved.
However, some complaints continue and “raise potentially systemic questions about the department’s decision making”.
She said it would be important to examine whether balance had been “reasonably” assessed in decisions to grant border permits.
‘The situation is increasingly urgent with the extended lockdown. “Some people tell my office that they face effective homelessness, are stuck in intergovernmental life and have nowhere else to go,” she said.
“Cases that have come into my office have given rise to concern about the exercise of discretion under the relevant public health directives.
“This will be a rapid investigation to help the department identify whether there is a need for urgent process and decision-making improvements.”
National MP Peter Walsh, whose voters run along the border with NSW, welcomed the ombudsman’s inquiry, saying his office had received “thousands of calls from Victorians at the end of their knowledge” wanting to return home.
“People make a lot of effort to get home, where many choose to self-isolate themselves in COVID-free border communities for two weeks, even before applying for an exemption,” he said.
The inquiry will be completed by the end of this year and will be submitted to Parliament.