Victorian Ombudsman finds government’s COVID border exemption scheme was ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’

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Victorian Ombudsman finds government’s COVID border exemption scheme was ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’

Posted 18h ago18 hours ago, updated 14h ago14 hours ago

Police stand on a road
Victoria closed its border after New South Wales was declared an “extreme risk zone”.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Ashlee Aldridge)

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The Victorian Ombudsman has found the state’s COVID border exemption scheme resulted in “unjust outcomes”.

Key points:

  • The investigation revealed that of the 33,252 exemption applications, only 8 per cent were granted
  • The Ombudsman has recommended the state government improve policy and guidance for such schemes
  • That it consider ex gratia payments on application to help cover the financial cost of not being able to travel home

The investigation by Ombudsman Deborah Glass, tabled in parliament on Tuesday, into decisions made under the Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions, recommends the government publicly acknowledge the distress caused to affected people.

Ms Glass launched an investigation in September into the Department of Health’s handling of border restrictions, following a raft of complaints.

Victoria closed its border with New South Wales on July 9, following Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton declaring all of New South Wales an “extreme risk zone”.

The closure left Victorians stranded across border lines, many of them denied exemptions despite being fully vaccinated and returning negative COVID tests.

They included Castlemaine resident Marianne Allan, who was repeatedly denied an exemption to return to Victoria, despite multiple letters from her doctors stating she required medical treatment for her advanced pancreatic cancer at home.Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from December 7 with a look back at our blog

The investigation revealed that of the 33,252 exemption applications the Department of Health received between July 9 and September 14, when the investigation started, only 8 per cent were granted.

People complained to the Ombudsman after being refused exemptions to travel to Victoria to farewell loved ones at funerals, attend vital medical appointments, care for sick family members, return home to care for animals, or to start jobs.

Some found themselves facing effective homelessness because they lived in Victoria and could not return.

Deborah Glass sitting in a chair in front of a window.
Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass says people felt caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Ms Glass said she did not criticise the decision to close the border, which was based on public health advice, but the narrow exercise of discretion.

“People’s anguish when they spoke to us was palpable,” she said.

“I recognise that the Department of Health’s intentions were to protect people in Victoria from a dangerous virus that had already seeded through cross-border incursion and that the department was under enormous pressure dealing with the exigencies of the public health emergency.

“While we did not review all decisions and I do not suggest that all were unfair, the overwhelming majority of applications did not get to a decision-maker at all, and the guidance did not change even as case numbers in Victoria grew and the risks evolved.”

She said the consequences of that were “vast and unfair” for many thousands of people stuck across the border.

“The result was some of the most questionable decisions I have seen in my over seven years as Ombudsman,” Ms Glass said.

“There is no doubt the government provided explicit warnings to Victorian residents interstate.

“But people still reasonably relied on a traffic light system which previously would have seen them come home under strict conditions.”

‘People felt caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare’

She said even in a global health emergency, some people needed to cross state borders, and too many found themselves bereft.

“The effect of a complex and constrained bureaucracy meant some outcomes were downright unjust, even inhumane,” Ms Glass said.

“People felt caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare.

“It appeared to me that the department put significant resources into keeping people out rather than helping them find safe ways to get home.”

The report also found major differences in the percentage of exemptions granted by Deputy Chief Health Officers and directors of the COVID-19 Response Division.

Of the cases determined by a Deputy CHO, 77 per cent were granted, while only 23 per cent of those assessed by a director were granted.

“Those with medical training were certainly more likely, plainly, to take into account public health risks in a potentially more proportionate way,” Ms Glass said.

Ms Glass previously asked the government to apologise for human rights breaches related to a decision in 2020 to lock down residential towers in July of that year.

She has again urged the government to apologise for its stringent approach to border exemptions.

“I think what is really important is that the government acknowledge that the narrow exercise of discretion caused enormous distress, real anguish to many people.”

The investigation found the team responsible for border exemptions was scaled up from 20 staff in early July to 285 by early September.

However, depending on workloads, staff had between 30 seconds and one minute and 20 seconds to categorise and prioritise applications.

The evidence required to be granted an exemption was extensive, ranging from statutory declarations, proof of residence or ownership of animals, letters from doctors, and statements of relationship to people who were dying.

The Ombudsman has also recommended the state government improve policy and guidance for such schemes and consider ex gratia payments on application to help cover the financial cost of not being able to travel home.

Meanwhile, the government said it would consider the recommendations in the report, but that some were already reflected in the new pandemic legislation.

“The extreme risk zone border restrictions addressed a significant public health risk posed to all Victorians by incursions from NSW of people with the highly infectious Delta variant,” a government spokesperson said in a statement.

“Now that more than 90 per cent of all Victorians [aged] 12 [years] and over are fully vaccinated, the border permit system has been revoked entirely and there are no domestic travel restrictions for travel into Victoria.”

Victorian Nationals Leader Peter Walsh — whose electorate covers border communities — said the ” draconian” permit scheme had divided families. 

“I’ve heard thousands of harrowing stories in the past 18 months,” he said.

“Elderly residents banned from returning home for months, of school buses stopped at the border with children ordered to show travel documents, of businesses that have had their trade ruined by these haphazard rules imposed by a Labor Government making decisions from Melbourne.”

The Tipping Point | Veena Sahajwalla

Australian Story: Jennifer Feller

Introduced by War on Waste host Craig Reucassel

Scientist Veena Sahajwalla is a recycling superstar with some bold new ideas about how to save waste from landfill. 

As Australia’s collective garbage guilt builds alongside the tonnes of plastic piling up in recycling depots, her innovative inventions may offer some exciting new solutions.

Inspired walking the streets of her Mumbai neighbourhood as a child, Veena observed almost everything was reused and “nothing was wasted”. 

This can-do attitude shaped her engineering career and sowed the seeds for some ground-breaking ideas, including making steel from car tyres.

Now she’s unveiling her latest invention, a “micro factory” that creates building materials and tiles from dumped clothes and glass. 

It’s a revolutionary concept. But will it work outside the lab?

Report | CSIRO: A circular economy roadmap for plastics, tyres, glass and paper in Australia

Watch this episode on Youtube

Stream this episode on iview

Your beer bottles and old clothes could become home furnishings in ‘recycling revolution’

When some people see trash, Veena Sahajwalla sees opportunity. The engineer and her team of innovative thinkers are opening new doors to manufacturing where one day your home could be tiled using those old beer bottles and clothes you’re throwing out.

Research scientist Veena Sahajwalla adjudged NSW Australian of the Year 2022

by NRI AFFAIRS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTNovember 19, 2021inNews Reading Time: 3 mins read

Professor Sahajwalla’s interest in material science was set in motion during her growing up years in Mumbai, where she saw the capacity of people to reuse objects instead of throwing them away as junk. In a documentary, aired by ABC News earlier this year, she talks about her observations as a child.

“The sense of repurposing and reusing, and sharing was driven by economic necessity, of course, but people were more than happy to have hand-me-downs, whether it was clothes or furniture items,” Sahajwalla says. “We would rarely throw away things that were in decent working order.”

She went on to study engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and earned her master’s degree at University of British Columbia. It was while completing her PhD at the University of Michigan, that she was offered a job at the Australian Government agency responsible for scientific research, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

She launched the world’s first e-waste micro-factory in 2018 and harbours plans to export the model throughout Australia and the world. These factories extract valuable metal alloys from discarded smartphones, laptops, circuit boards, and turning them into plastic filaments for 3D printing. At present her micro-factories are converting waste materials, such as plastic, glass and textiles into industrial-grade ceramics to be used in the building industry. The junk which usually end up in landfill are now being harnessed to produce valuable objects that can be utilised in a variety of ways. 


This time we know the Covid risks. We have simply decided to manage them

Zoe Williams

Why did the nation let its guard down this autumn, get back on the tube and into football grounds? Because we felt it was worth it

A crowded Heaven nightclub in July 2021
‘Now that most of us are double-jabbed and often boostered, many of us have decided that going to the pub or party is something we are willing to risk.’ Photograph: Everynight Images/Alamy

Wed 1 Dec 2021 00.21 AEDT

Omicron Covid variant: Greg Hunt backflips as Australia shuts border to southern Africa

Australian politics

Australians attempting to return home from southern Africa will be allowed into the country, but ordered into mandatory hotel quarantine

Greg Hunt and Paul Kelly
Health minister Greg Hunt and chief medical officer Paul Kelly. Hunt said there were no known cases of the Omicron Covid variant in Australia when announcing the closure of the border to non-citizens who had been in southern Africa. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Ben Smee@BenSmeeSat 27 Nov 2021 15.58 AEDT

Australia has suspended flights from nine southern African countries and closed its borders to any foreign nationals who have been to the region, amid concern about the emerging Covid-19 variant of concern, Omicron.

The announcement, made by the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, on Saturday afternoon, followed travel restrictions imposed by the United States, United Kingdom and European Union.

The new measures were discussed in a series of meetings, including between the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, early on Saturday morning. The previous day, Hunt had said Australia had no intention of closing its border to South Africa and surrounding nations.Omicron: everything you need to know about new Covid variantRead more

The restrictions apply to nine African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.

Australians attempting to return home from that region will be allowed into the country, but ordered into mandatory hotel quarantine.Advertisement

Anyone who is already in Australia, who has visited one of the listed nations in the past 14 days, is ordered to quarantine and get tested immediately.

Authorities say fewer than 100 recent arrivals to Australia would be subject to such orders. There are 20 people from South Africa, who have arrived during the past week, quarantining at the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory. One of those cases is positive, though the variant is not yet known.

Hunt said there were no known cases of Omicron in Australia, but that precautionary measures were needed given emerging concern about the variant.

Hunt said the government had taken “strong, swift, decisive and immediate actions”.

“They’re taken on the best medical advice,” he said.

“We’ve taken [precautionary] action in the past. We’ve taken early action in the past. We are doing that again.

“The difference is that we now have strong vaccines, we have one of the highest levels of coverage in the world, we have one of the most recently vaccinated populations in the world, and we have strong public health and social measures, and we also have, most significantly, a well-prepared hospital system.”

Hunt said the measures could be quickly altered – scaled up or wound back – as the world learned more about Omicron.

“If the medical evidence shows that further actions are required, we will not hesitate to take them,” he said.

What Uta wrote in April 2020

Saturday, 25th of April 2020, 5AM

Everyone has by now some idea about the Coronavirus. It definitely has brought a lot of changes to our lives. How will all this end? Nobody knows for sure. We may have some ideas how it might end. However we cannot really know it, not exactly . . .

I think back to World War Two. Eighty years ago at this time of the year we had already eight months of war behind us. I was still only five years old. School started after Easter. But I was not allowed to go. I was considered to be still too young!

Our war in Germany ended on the 8th of May 1945. By then I was a ten year old. I emigrated to Australia in April 1959 with my husband and two daughters who were five months and sixteen months old. I left fourteen postwar years in Germany behind and started a new life in Australia. My dear little family did thrive in Australia. We did not make it to become rich. But we had a life in Australia, a good life. Neither Peter, my husband, nor I ever regretted our move to Australia. Yes, Australia has been very good to us!

Over the years we made a number of visits to our old country. We were amazed how prosperous Germany had become. Still, we were always glad to be going back to Australia. Four years ago, at the beginning of June, Peter and I made our last trip to Germany. Most of the time we stayed in Berlin, our home-town. Our son Martin had come with us and stayed with us, which was good. At the same time our daughter Caroline had come to Berlin with Matthew. They loved to get to know this interesting city. However on short notice they suddenly had to leave: Daughter Caroline had been called to Darwin on a job opportunity.

Towards the end of June daughter Monika had come to Berlin with all her tribe, that is with Natasha who is one of her daughters, and also with her twin sons, Troy and Ryan, as well as Ryan’s Partner Ebony and their sons Lucas and Alexander. They were on a tour from London to Paris to Switzerland to Berlin, where they stayed for nine days only, and then back to London, touring England a bit and then back home to Australia.

Why I mention our stay in Berlin four years ago is because that is where Peter first noticed something wrong with his bladder: Often he could hardly make it to the toilet on time! He always had to run, run, run to the toilet. A few weeks later in Australia a test showed that there was a tumour in his bladder!

For two years Peter received BCG treatment at Wollongong Hospital.

(BCG stands for Bacille Calmette Guerin. BCG is a weakened (attenuated) version of a bacteria called Mycobacterium bovis which is closely related to Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the agent responsible for tuberculosis. … BCG is also used as an adjuvant to stimulate the immune response and in cancer chemotherapy.)

Peter ended up with a battery of specialists: Urologists, an oncologist, cardiologists, a skin specialist, a dentist, hearing specialists, an optometrist and an ophthalmologist.

About two years ago heart bypass surgery was suggested because of Peter’s blocked arteries to the heart. Because of Peter’s brittle bones and his advanced age Peter decided he did not want any bypass surgery.

Recently Peter ended up in Wollongong Hospital with severe kidney pain. After successful surgery to drain the kidney and the insertion of a stent to the bladder the pain is gone. But Peter gets off and on severe back pain. Sitting in a comfortable easy chair usually helps him to immediately get rid of the pain. Also when he lies down on his side, the pain does go away instantly.  However some Ex-ray revealed now, that Peter has the start of bone-cancer, which means that his bladder cancer has spread further.

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Everyone knew already in March…October 10, 2021In “copy”

Living at Home versus Life in a HostelAugust 28, 2021In “copy”

Diary, End of February 2021February 22, 2021In “Diary”Posted byauntyutaPosted incopyDiaryLife in AustraliaMemoryOld AgeTags:BCG TreatmentBerlin TripsBladder CancerBone CancerBypass SurgeryCoronavirusEmigration to AustraliaEnd of WW II ln GermanyFamily Visit to Berlin in June 2016What Uta wrote in April 2020

Utopia Homelands

I just listened to a program on the ABC Illawarra Radio Station about the Utopia Homelands.

I find it truly remarkable that something like this does exist!,_Northern_Territory

I did take my blood pressure medication already and my blood pressure at half past 5 am was:



The Utopia region is a dry community, and alcohol is strictly prohibited. There is a night patrol operated by the Urapuntja Aboriginal Corporation.[21]

Health and well-being[edit]

Further information: Indigenous Australians’ health

The 30-year history of Utopia (until 2011) is a record of self-determination against a background of well-developed communal will and widespread participation. The era of settlement included some profitable relations with white pastoralists and some degree of continuous Indigenous occupation. The community has had some success in mitigating the clinical disorders associated with transition to sedentary life, and minimising the advent of destructive behaviours and intoxicants. In addition, they have maintained a strong commitment to traditional practices and customs, which support identity in the face of coercive change. Sanitation issues such as the lack of rubbish collection and poor hygiene are significant obstacles to greater well-being.[24]

A series of population health surveys carried out between 1986 and 2004 showed that Utopia people were significantly healthier than comparable groups, particularly their rates of mortality. This has been attributed to the more active “outstation way of life” and the consumption of traditional foods. Community living, cultural factors and the primary health care facility were also important factors.[25][26][4]

In 2014, the borehole supplying water to the community of Utopia was broken during maintenance by Barkly Regional Council, and delivery of water via truck was irregular and insufficient, leading to the spread of disease.[27][28] While there was dispute by authorities about the extent of the water shortage[29][30][31] the Northern Territory government eventually agreed to fund the bore repairs, and money raised by a crowdfunding campaign was transferred to the Urapuntja Health Service.[32]


Body painting and sand paintings have always been important aspects of ceremony, and there has been a tradition of woodcarving which still continues, such as in the work of Josie Kunoth Petyarr, Dinni Kunoth Kemarr and Trudy Raggett Kemarr. Batik was introduced in 1977 and proved to be a very popular medium among the artists.[4]

In 1987, Rodney Gooch from the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) took over the Utopia Batik Group and encouraged the women to depict their stories and country on batik. This project culminated in the exhibition Utopia: A Picture Story, in which 88 artists contributing (all women, except for two and which was shown in AdelaideSydneyPerth and Melbourne and then travelled to Ireland, Germany, Paris and Bangkok.[4]

In 1989, artworks on silk by women artists from Utopia were exhibited in the very first exhibition in the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide, entitled Utopia — A Picture Story.[33]

The artists continued to experiment with many media and styles, with the dominating styles being “gestural abstractionism“, such as the work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and the fine stippling techniques, as seen in the work of the Ngal sisters and Kathleen Petyarre.[4]

Utopia’s Aboriginal artists have been remarkably successful, and continue to produce distinctive works that are collected by people in Australia and all over the world.[34] Notable artists from Utopia include Emily Kame Kngwarreye; Angelina Pwerle; seven sisters including Gloria Petyarre, Kathleen Petyarre, Nancy Petyarre and Jeanna Petyarre, and their extended family members Elizabeth Kunoth Kngwarray (Kngwarreye) and others; Polly and Kathleen Ngal; Ruby, Lucky, Sarah and Hazel Morton; and many others.[4]

The Community Art Centre at Ampilatwatja was established in 1999, and most artists based there paint landscapes and “Arreth” themes, which means paying homage to their traditional bush medicine, rather than Dreaming stories. The style is distinctive and different from most other Aboriginal artists, marked by their application of fine dots, and “often bright and child-like figurative depiction of the land”.[11]

There is also another, more recently established art centre, where local artists Jennifer Purvis Kngwarreye (granddaughter of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and an elder of the community) work. Jennifer’s work (among others from the art centre) was exhibited at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs as part of the 30th annual Desert Mob exhibition in 2021, and bought by Artbank.[6]

Notable residents[edit]


Cape Otway Lighthouse – Oldest Lighthouse in Australia

Amazing views. Amazing history.

Cape Otway Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia and considered the most significant. This leading attraction on the Great Ocean Road is a must for all visitors.

Built in 1848, the lighthouse known as the ‘Beacon of Hope,’ sits 90 metres above the pristine ocean of Bass Strait.

Hundreds of lives were lost along this shipwreck coast – a sad but fascinating history which led to the building of the Lightstation on the cliffs edge.

For many thousands of 19th century migrants, who spent months travelling to Australia by ship, Cape Otway was their first sight of land after leaving Europe, Asia and North America.

Yom Kippur Australia

September 15, 2021 – September 16, 2021

Yom Kippur Event Information

Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Also known as Day of Atonement, its central themes are repentance and atonement. Traditionally, the Jewish community observe this day with a 25-hour fasting and prayer period. In fact, many Jews spend most of their day in the synagogue. Then, once the day is over, a ram’s horn is blown to announce the end of Yom Kippur.

What is the Main Purpose of Yom Kippur?

The purpose of Yom Kippur is to deliver collective and individual purification. The Jewish community look to practice the forgiveness of sin by others and achieve sincere repentance for individual sins against God. The day includes the abstinence from food, drink and sexual activity.