Grieve - Travel exemption delays (Cross border community members)

Thursday October 15, 2020

I would like to rise to speak on cross-border travel and the difficulties those of us who live in cross-border areas are facing, with extended delays from the state government in granting exemptions or, indeed, granting refusals. I would also like to thank my office staff, Denise, Travis, Sophie and Kate, because the majority of my office work this year has centred around assisting our community, and those from Victoria who live close to our border, in seeking answers from the state government. It is not that I am complaining that we need to go through a process. I am quite happy with the process. What I am saying is the delay is totally unacceptable. I am going to raise a couple of specific examples if I have time.

On 22 September, Jack Harrison applied for an exemption to return permanently to South Australia from Victoria. Like so many people, he had lost his job due to the pandemic and had to go on JobSeeker. In June, he made plans to relocate back to South Australia, where his partner lives, but his plans were put on hold because of the border closure between South Australia and Victoria. After applying for jobs, he was offered a good position in Mount Gambier, which he was looking forward to starting.

Like so many others, Jack went through the extensive application process in plenty of time to be granted an exemption to move. He sent letters from his new employer, rental agreements and personal details. He told them he was happy to isolate at home or at the medi-hotel at his own cost. He put in dates for his move and he hit 'send'. Over the next three weeks, Jack was shuffled from agency to hotline to person. He was told there had been server errors and had to resubmit his application. One day he was told that his application had been escalated, the next that it had been delayed and then the next that it was being reviewed by a panel.

His moving date, 6 October, came and went with no answer from SA Health or even a time line as to when his application would be assessed. At all times, Jack has been respectful, considerate and waiting patiently for a decision to restart his life. Finally, Jack wrote to the South Australian Ombudsman requesting a decision. In this letter, he spoke out about the ongoing impact on his mental health, his precarious living and financial situation and also the frustration at not even getting a response from SA Health.

Unfortunately, Jack's story is not unique. Time after time, this story repeats itself in my electorate office. We are aware of one young woman who has been waiting for five weeks for her exemption to be approved. This situation is simply not good enough. It is completely unacceptable that South Australians are living their lives in limbo and it is completely unacceptable that decisions that impact their lives are made by people far removed from their situation. It is completely unacceptable that regional South Australians living near a border feel they are being treated like numbers by government agencies.

Since March, members have been dealing with this at unprecedented levels. I would like to reiterate an important point made recently by my colleague Nick McBride, whose MacKillop electorate has also been dealing with a large number of cross-border issues. He pointed out there is no regional representation on the Transition Committee and no cross-border representation. I completely agree with this statement. These decisions are impacting regional people and being decided by people based in metropolitan areas with no concept of the challenges of living regionally or, in particular, in a border community.

Many stories are very difficult. There are people who have been referred to homeless services, lost businesses and relationships and missed family funerals and the passing of loved ones. I want to raise this point today as this week is Mental Health Week, a time when we all need to look out for each other and be aware of ongoing mental health implications from this pandemic. The theme is 'Every person, every community', which I interpret to mean that we should all have some empathy for the situations of others. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that a little bit of kindness and respect go a long way.