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Adjournment debate, Bring Talia home, 11 August 2021

COVID-19: State and Territory Border Closures Senator HENDERSON (Victoria) (19:35): [by video link] This evening I raise the case of my constituents Mary-Anne and Billy Hemsley, who live in Curlewis in Geelong, the mother and stepfather of 15-year-old Talia Wale. Talia travelled to Fennell Bay, New South Wales, on 11 July to stay with her aunt for a short holiday at the end of the school holidays. Several days after departing Victoria, a statewide lockdown, that being lockdown No. 5, was imposed across Victoria.

Over the past seven weeks, Ms Hemsley has applied for three permits for Talia, who has received a negative COVID-19 test, to enable Talia to return to Victoria, but these applications have been repeatedly denied.

As the days and weeks drag on, Ms Hemsley and Talia have become increasingly stressed, anxious and depressed about Talia’s forced separation from her family. Late last week, I wrote to Victoria’s chief medical officer, Professor Brett Sutton, urgently appealing to him to issue a permit to Talia so she could fly back on a flight booked for last Sunday.

I received only an automated reply and no response to my follow-up email. At the time I was assisting the family, a friend of the Hemsley family contacted the office of Bellarine MP Lisa Neville and was advised on the instructions of the MP acting for Ms Neville, who is away ill at the moment, that the Department of Health processes would need to be followed and there was nothing further that could be done. Given Talia is a minor, a child, only 15 years old, I consider this to be an untenable situation. Talia’s mental health was in such decline that yesterday her mum drove to Fennell Bay to be with her daughter.

Ms Hemsley has applied for permits for both herself and Talia, but they have not been issued, despite regional Victoria coming out of lockdown No. 6. Section 17 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 provides for the protection of the family and the rights of the child. A large body of international and domestic law makes it clear that the rights of the child are absolute. I believe the refusal to provide Talia with a permit to return to her family may constitute a breach of the charter. That’s why I’m referring this case to the Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, who has done a first-class job identifying human rights breaches by the Victorian government under the guise of public health orders and has called them out. She’s still waiting for an apology after the shocking incident last year when the public housing tower in Melbourne was locked down with minutes of notice and people were left in their units with no food or medicines. Public health orders are necessary during a pandemic, but they must be proportionate and, during a pandemic, human rights matter also—the right not to be locked in your home 24/7, as happened in the northern curfew, the right not to be locked in your house with no food or medicines or support for those with a disability or the right of family and friends to say their final farewell to their child, as in the case of the beautiful Cooper Onyett, who tragically drowned whilst on a school camp hundreds of kilometres from the nearest case of the virus.

There was no funeral exemption given, and that was an absolute disgrace. Professor Sutton explained his decision was simply ‘a matter of equity’, which is incomprehensible. What about today’s case and the right of a mother to see her daughter, stricken with cancer? A mother who is fully vaccinated cannot cross the border to be with her daughter with cancer. Last year I advocated for the family who lost their precious 16-year-old to suicide and was told by the most senior departmental health official that an exemption would not be granted because it might be a breach of human rights, which was of course absolute rubbish.

As we work together to get through this crisis, I say to the Victorian government: please, do not forget the importance of compassion towards Victorians facing sickness, grief and separation. I am determined to fight for Talia. She must come home. She must return to school. I call on Daniel Andrews to do the right thing and issue her with a permit.

11 August 2021

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