People living in communities along Victoria’s border were asked for evidence loved ones were dying from cancer and personal financial statements, a damning report on Victoria’s border permit scheme has found.
Residents from Shepparton, Numurkah and Mooroopna were among those subject to months of navigating complex and unworkable rules after the Andrews Labor Government slammed Victoria’s borders shut in the pandemic.
A new independent report from the Victorian Ombudsman delivered a scathing assessment of the scheme, labelling it “downright unjust, even inhumane”.
Leader of The Nationals Peter Walsh, also a local resident of a border community, said case studies highlighted by the Ombudsman’s report painted a heartbreakingly accurate picture of the cruel failings of the scheme.
“Throughout the border closures, I received thousands of calls from Victorians denied their right to return home or to be with dying family members under Daniel Andrews’ cruel and oppressive scheme,” Mr Walsh said.
“Elderly travellers rendered homeless as they’d been denied entry home to Victoria, sick Victorians unable to travel for critical medical treatment or to be with family, and farmers prevented from travelling to farms to tend livestock and crops.
“People in communities along the Murray River were powerless as daily life was turned on its head by a Labor Government making decisions from Melbourne.
“In the Ombudsman’s own words – we cannot let this happen again.”
The Ombudsman stated the whole scheme “failed to comprehend” the realities of life in cross-border communities which rely on free travel.
In some twin towns, the local pharmacy, supermarket, bakery or green grocer is located over the river, yet residents were banned from crossing, even for medication or daily staples like bread and milk.
The Ombudsman’s report came just days after Premier Daniel Andrews bragged his Government’s COVID response was a “triumph” in an interview with a Labor-aligned podcast.
Mr Walsh said although nothing could make up for the mental trauma and financial cost of the closures, instead of cruel celebrations the Premier should be offering cross-border residents a public apology.
The Ombudsman’s report contained anonymous, first-hand recounts of people who suffered under Victoria’s border scheme. They included:
- “We just want an exemption to be with our dying daughter … She is terminal, palliative and end of life. We are being treated inhumanely… [by a person] making a decision taking weeks we don’t have…” (p8)
- “My application was denied without even being looked at, and my father in Victoria passed away the next day on the Sunday” (p13)
- “My sister … has been dealt a devastating blow of being diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, that has also travelled to numerous other vital organs of her body. Ultimately this is a terminal diagnosis… we are unsure how long she may survive … A clerk … has informed us the diagnosis is not serious enough” (p13)
- “We are currently spending $540 a week for accommodation which we cannot afford as we are both 70 year old pensioners … When the borders were going to be closed we were 12 hours away and would not have made it in time … [accommodation] is costing us dearly as nearly half our fortnightly pension.” (p44)