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Ombudsman holds Andrews Government to account for failing to #BringVictoriansHome

The Victorian Ombudsman’s report – Investigation into decision-making under the Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions – highlights the Andrews Government’s failure to safeguard fundamental human rights.

The report released today confirms the grave concerns I expressed over a number of months when I led the campaign to #BringVictoriansHome which helped kickstart the Ombudsman’s inquiry.

As Premier, Daniel Andrews has seriously failed in his duty to treat Victorians justly and humanely.

This report is the latest evidence that the Andrews Government cannot be trusted to use its emergency powers in the best interests of Victorians. It failed to deliver the initial phase of its hotel quarantine program between March and July 2020, resulting in the deaths of 801 people.  Melbourne became the most locked down city in the world, during which time the freedoms of Victorians were unnecessarily trampled, which led to serious economic and mental health consequences.

This is a government which banned children from playgrounds, imposed needless overnight curfews and prevented students from attending school for more than 220 days. State Labor then shut its borders so tightly that Victorians could not even come together to attend the funerals of close family members.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry and report, which recommended ex gratia compensation payments and the right to freedom of movement be included in Victorian human rights law, is a welcome intervention. So serious were the state government’s failures in the management of the border lockouts that the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said: “The result was some of the most questionable decisions I have seen in my over seven years as Ombudsman.”

As I uncovered, many Victorians were callously stranded interstate, driven into effective homelessness and denied medical treatment from their doctor. Some were forced to pay double rent and incur other unjustified costs.  Others were denied the right to attend funerals or see loved ones facing end of life illness.  Victorian students attending school in NSW were denied the right to return home, with some families told that if their children returned to Victoria they would not be permitted to travel back to their school in NSW in the foreseeable future.  This is just an utter disgrace.

My office received desperate pleas from many Victorian residents including Allan Meers of Ballarat who was trapped for 73 days in northern NSW after visiting a terminally ill friend.  John and Lorraine Bradbury of Torquay were stranded in a caravan park near Grafton NSW with four other Victorian couples, all of whom could not get home, even with serious medical conditions. Denis and Katrina Leahy of Geelong, along with their sick dog Angus, were stranded for 34 days in two caravan parks in Albury.

Under circumstances where stranded Victorians were fully vaccinated and had tested negative for COVID, there was absolutely no justification in preventing people from driving straight home and quarantining for 14 days. Ms Glass reiterated this today.  The state government’s treatment of Victorians was nothing short of cruel and callous.

I condemn Victorian federal MPs including Libby Coker and Richard Marles who did nothing to advocate for an urgent change in the border permit system.  They showed a terrible disregard for the basic human rights of fellow Victorians.

I hope and trust that the Victorian Premier has the decency to accept the Ombudsman’s recommendations and apologise for failing to bring Victorians home under the most shocking of circumstances.

7 December 2021

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