The government ruled it would not offer compensation back in May, however the decision has only just come to light, as it was published on an obscure part of a government website.
Thousands of Victorians were locked out of the state on July 23, 2021, when the state government closed the NSW border for the first time in 100 years due to the large outbreak of COVID-19 in NSW.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass’ investigation found that the border closure process led to “some of the most questionable decisions (she had) seen in (her) over seven years as Ombudsman”, leading to a “torrent of anger and grief”.
“The closure of Victoria’s borders in July 2021 impacted thousands of Victorians in few ways, if any, could ever have contemplated,” her report read.
It explained that on July 20, 2021, Victorian residents in red zones were given 12 hours to cross the border, which was “an impossibility for many, especially the elderly or those with young children in remote parts of NSW”, before the lockout began on July 23.
Only people with valid exemptions were then allowed to return to Victoria.
The Ombudsman said complaints she received about people not granted an exemption were “heartbreaking”, including people who had traveled to visit ill relatives and people made homeless because their homes were in Victoria.
Only eight per cent of the 33,252 exemption applications filed between July 9 and September 14, 2021, were granted by the government, with many applications failing because people did not have the documentation requested by the government.
“Rather than fairly considering individual circumstances and the risks associated with them, the exemptions scheme was a blunt instrument that resulted in unjust outcomes, potentially for thousands of people,” the Ombudsman concluded.
Glass said it was hard to understand why some applications were not granted.
“Aside from the myriad of cases that should have been cause for compassion, it is difficult to understand how a fully vaccinated person, testing negative to COVID-19, willing to self-quarantine on arrival, and able to drive to their destination on one tank of fuel, could pose such a risk to public health to justify refusing an exemption.”
“The effect of a complex and constrained bureaucracy meant some outcomes were downright unjust, even inhumane.”
The Victorian government published its response to the recommendation that those who experienced the “unjust outcomes” be offered payment in a report published on its website on or before May 27.
“While the Victorian government is not considering making ex gratia payments for those Victorians who were unable to travel home during this period, it does acknowledge the distress and disruption that the border restrictions generally created,” the government’s statement reads.
“It also acknowledges the frustration and challenges that people experienced when attempting to obtain an exemption in these difficult circumstances when the risks presented to the public health of Victorians by COVID-19 was constantly evolving.”
The subvariants and mutations of COVID-19
It is understood that the publication of the government’s response was not shared with media or on social media.