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Peter Dutton has defended the decision to allow Tony Abbott to travel to the UK, while hundreds of Australians are fighting for permission to leave the country on compassionate grounds.
The Morrison government closed Australia’s international borders in March. Since then, thousands of Australians have fought to prove they have “compelling and compassionate” reasons to travel, with at least 20% of applications rejected.
Abbott received permission to travel to the UK last month, where he has since been granted a position as a trade envoy for Boris Johnson’s government.
Hundreds of Australians are still waiting for approval to leave to visit sick or dying family members, or attend family funerals overseas. While Border Force has approved thousands of exemptions, it can take more than two weeks for permission to be granted, and in some cases it has come too late.
“We’ve provided advice to Australians not to travel overseas from as far back as January and February of this year,” Dutton, the home affairs minister, told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.
“We’ve been very clear about the fact that we closed our borders because of the Covid threat. And we’ve allowed people to travel to see a loved one overseas. We’ve allowed people to travel for business.”
Dutton, who led the attack this week on the Queensland Labor government for denying Sarah Caisip permission to attend her father’s funeral, said he was comfortable with his former leader receiving permission to travel overseas, despite Australians waiting for permission to attend funerals.
“On the facts of Mr Abbott’s case, the border force commissioner approved that case,” he said.
“And in many cases where people have wanted to go for funerals, they’ve also been approved as well. If you’re … trying to put an equivalence to somebody coming from Canberra or from northern New South Wales, where there have been no cases, to come across a state border, then frankly, there’s no comparison.”
Dutton said comparing the international border closure to state border closures was “chalk and cheese”.
He blamed the states, singling out Queensland, for putting a cap on the international arrivals they were willing to accept as part of the mandatory hotel quarantine program for all returned travellers, saying it was one reason more Australians were unable to return home.
While the states have capped the number of returned travellers they are willing to accept, the federal government has declined to use federal facilities, such as the Christmas Island detention centre, to quarantine returning Australians.
Dutton, who tested positive for Covid on return from a trip to the US in March, has been critical of Queensland’s border closures since the end of the first nationwide lockdown.
Caisip’s case became a flashpoint for federal-state relations in Queensland, with the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, both coming under intense criticism for denying the 26-year-old permission to attend her father’s funeral.
Caisip had travelled from the ACT, where there has been no recorded community transmission for more than two months. Despite this, it has been declared a Covid hotspot by Young because of its proximity to New South Wales, where there are limited cases of community transmission.
Dutton has also roundly criticised the Queensland government for allowing actor Tom Hanks to enter the state to complete filming of an Elvis biopic, while denying others permission to enter Queensland. The Guardian revealed on Friday that Dutton’s department, Border Force, had given permission for Hanks to enter.
Asked by the Insiders host, David Speers, why he criticised Palaszczuk but not the Liberal premiers of other states, Dutton said: “I come from Queensland.
“I’m equally critical … There’s no justification for borders to be closed in Queensland at the moment, and if the same arrangements are in WA where there’s a Labor administration, South Australia or Tasmania, where there are Liberal administrations, then that’s my view. Others that are closer to it and in those particular states can make comments about their own jurisdictions.”
On Sunday morning, the Queensland Australian Medical Association president, Dr Chris Perry, called on Young’s critics to “back off”.
“She’s been listening to people all the way through and giving exemptions when she can when it’s safe for the rest of the state to have those exemptions carried through,” he said.
“Leave her alone, she’s doing a good job, we support what she’s saying and doing.”
Hanks and his crew remain in quarantine, although not in one of the designated state quarantine hotels. As part of an agreement, Hanks and the film’s makers are paying for logistics and security, as well as hotel accommodation, but at a different resort. Under the agreement, the group faces the same quarantine restrictions as other returned travellers, including random police checks and just one hour a day outside their rooms.
On Sunday morning Dutton toned down his criticism of the Hanks exemption.
“The point is that Mr Hanks should be treated no differently than somebody else coming back, and that’s the basis on which we argue here,” he said.
“Somebody coming from the ACT where there have been no cases, having to go into a hotel in Brisbane for two weeks before they can see a loved one, who has a life expectancy of only one week, is an outrage and there’s no comparison to make there. We want to see jobs created and to see industry grow.
“We’ve provided support for the arts industry and for many others and the Queensland government has provided letters of support for other people as well, including Mr Hanks.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Peter Dutton defends decision to let Tony Abbott travel overseas | Australia news