Ombudsman to investigate health dept decisions on COVID-19 travel permits

The Victorian Ombudsman will investigate state health department decisions about COVID-19 related interstate travel permits.

Deborah Glass

Ombudsman Deborah Glass says she’s received more than 80 complaints from people trying to enter Victoria, including many residents, after the state’s Chief Health Officer declared NSW an extreme risk and closed its border on July 9.

The included complaints about children in NSW schools who weren’t able to return to their parents and a women who left Victoria to attend a funeral in NSW but was locked out when she tried to return to care for an adult daughter.

“The situation is increasingly urgent with the extended lockdown. Some people are telling my office they face effective homelessness, stuck interstate with nowhere else to go,” Ms Glass said.

Continuing complaints

She said the fact complaints were continuing to be made raised “potentially systemic issues about departmental decision-making”.

“Cases that have come into my office have raised concerns about the exercise of discretion under the relevant public health directions,” she said.
“This will be a swift investigation to help the Department identify if urgent improvements are needed in processes and decision making.”

The investigation will examine the department’s exercise of discretion in decisions about interstate travel permits, exceptions and exemptions and “relevant human rights considerations”.

It comes after an Ombudsman’s report released last month raised questions about how whether  human rights were being adequately balanced against public health orders.

That report said there had bee 2,700 complaints to the Ombudsman’s office in 2019-20 amid a surge in COVID-19-related complaints.

Ms Glass said decisions about border rights also need to balance individual rights with those of the broader community.

The investigation will be concluded at the end of the year.

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