17 June, 2020
There's no denying that the government's swift and decisive action in closing our international border is one of the key reasons the COVID-19 health crisis was not more severe. I take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of staff of the Department of Home Affairs who have been processing inquiries and requests for exemptions from the travel bans, both in and out of the country.
Whilst I appreciate that departmental staff are doing their best to apply the current regulations, I am concerned that these restrictions are now disproportionate, resulting in curtailing civil liberties. So I call on the government to introduce more flexibility and compassion to enable consideration of particular requests and circumstances. I understand the importance of border control during this global pandemic, but people's lives and freedoms are being adversely impacted.
I have specific examples: Australian citizens needing to travel overseas for compelling reasons, or long-term visa holders stranded aboard unable to return to their homes in Australia, and overseas citizens needing to enter Australia on compassionate grounds. Here are some examples. Donna Burton is an Australian citizen seeking to travel to the UK in July for the wedding of her only daughter. Her first application has been rejected and she's awaiting her second. Gonzalo and Luillya are visa holders who have lived in Australia for seven years. They have full-time employment here and were in the process of applying for permanent residency. They visited their family in Colombia at the beginning of the year and are now stuck there. They want to come home. Then there's the heartbreaking situation of the family of Debra Hale. Debra passed away suddenly on 16 May, leaving behind two sons who have no other family here in Australia. Debra's sister, Lesley Hawes, and her parents are British citizens and they were denied permission to enter Australia to attend the funeral and assist the young men in dealing with the logistics of their mother's death. Debra's former husband, Derek, has also been denied permission. He's written to me to say he managed to watch Debra's funeral through a livestream facility. He said, 'To be honest, watching my two children bury their mother without any support or comfort from other family members was one of the most harrowing things I've ever had the misfortune to witness.'
So, clearly, a more compassionate and consistent approach is required. If exemptions are made for an entire NRL team and their support staff to enter Australia, then surely we can look at allowing grieving family members to come or long-term visa holders who have made their lives here. In some cases, children are separated from parents, or husbands and wives are separated for an indefinite amount of time. These are real lives being impacted and we can and should do better. I call for some flexibility and amendments to the regulations.