No exemption for Canberran to attend dad's funeral, but private viewing allowed

Sarah Caisip (left) with her late-father Bernard, her younger sister Isobel and her mother Myrna.
Sarah Caisip (left) with her late-father Bernard, her younger sister Isobel and her mother Myrna.

Denied permission to attend her father's funeral, Canberra woman Sarah Caisip could only view his body while wearing full personal protective equipment on Thursday, sparking a political war of words.

Ms Caisip's bid to pay tribute to her father and support her mother and little sister was denied by the Queensland government, even though she had travelled from the ACT, where there hasn't been a new case of COVID-19 since July 10.

Queensland's chief health officer defended the decision to stop the 26-year-old from leaving hotel quarantine to attend her father's funeral, saying the memorials are a "very risky environment".

Dr Jeannette Young told reporters on Thursday afternoon she was "extremely risk averse" and maintained that Canberra was considered a hotspot due to cases in NSW.

The refusal came despite pleas from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, both of whom called Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk directly to make the case for an exemption on compassionate grounds.

Ms Caisip had applied for an exemption to Queensland's border restrictions on Canberrans as it became clear her father didn't have long to live, hoping they would have one last Father's Day together.

But by the time her exemption to travel to Brisbane was granted, her father had already died.

"My dad is dead and you made me fight to see him, but it was too late, and now you won't let me go to his funeral or see my devastated 11-year-old sister," Ms Caisip wrote, in a letter tabled in Queensland Parliament by state opposition leader Deb Frecklington.

"You are preventing me (a 26-year-old woman) from going to view his body, which is a very important tradition for me, and also preventing me from going to his funeral this Thursday, even though I am in Brisbane in hotel quarantine and only a few kilometres away.

"I came from virus-free Canberra, so the fact that I'm even in quarantine is beyond belief but the fact that I am being denied my basic human rights to care for my grief-stricken mother and little 11-year-old sister enrages, disgusts and devastates me at the same time."

In the letter Ms Caisip said a government official told her she shouldn't be in Queensland because her exemption to travel was granted to see her dying father, not to go to his funeral. She was made to feel like a "naughty little criminal".

Dr Young said she didn't know if one of her staff members had said that.

Ms Caisip grew up in Brisbane but moved to Canberra at the start of the year. She told Brisbane radio station 4BC she had been working full time as a manager at a Hungry Jacks, and hadn't been travelling outside the ACT.

She also defended the delays in approving exemptions, saying a large number of applications were being made and the needed to be worked through.

The Queensland government has been criticised for including the ACT in its definition of a COVID-19 hotspot, despite no new cases of the virus being recorded in the capital since July 10, and no active cases for 62 days.

"Canberra is defined as a hotspot because it is in the middle of New South Wales, we know there are cases around them," Dr Young said.

"The other part is, you might remember there were a lot of cases in Batemans Bay, and a lot of Canberrans have weekend residences they go to in Batemans Bay. We have seen it happen. Unfortunately, for people who live in Canberra, they are deemed as being in a hotspot, need to be managed as such."

Political tensions over state border closures have boiled over as Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly campaigned for Ms Caisip to be allowed to attend the funeral, including on Sydney radio.

On Thursday night Mr Morrison said he had hoped this case could have been handled differently, and he didn't want it to be an ongoing issue between him and the Queensland Premier.

"Today just hurt," he said on Sky News, saying states like Queensland needed to find a better way to handle border measures and exemptions.

Ms Palaszczuk lashed the Prime Minister as the issue was debated in Queensland Parliament on Thursday morning, saying the family's personal tragedy was being used politically.

"I will not be bullied and nor will I be intimidated by the Prime Minister of this country who contacted me this morning," she said.

"I made it very clear that it is not my decision and that I would pass the information onto the chief health officer. It is the chief health officer's decision to make."

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr also made representations to Ms Palaszczuk about the case on Thursday morning.

"I am hoping that on the grounds of compassion and the very low risk of someone from the ACT having COVID-19, that the Queensland chief health officer grants an exemption," he said.

Liberal Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja wrote to the Queensland Premier on Wednesday, saying there was no medical basis for Queensland's strict restrictions on ACT residents.

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"These are absolutely heartbreaking stories we're seeing and hearing. Families torn apart wanting to visit sick loved ones or attend the funeral of those who have recently passed because of arbitrary political decisions," Senator Seselja told The Canberra Times.

Senator Seselja said Canberrans were being treated as second-class citizens and called on federal Labor MPs to take a stand against the border closure.

"My federal ACT Labor colleagues need to stop taking a political position in this debate giving a free pass to their Labor mates in Queensland, and instead and stand up for the Canberrans they represent," he said.

Labor member for Fenner Andrew Leigh said he had hoped an exemption would be possible given the ACT has been free from known cases of coronavirus for more than a month.

"This is obviously a very distressing situation for Sarah and her family, one which so many of us had hoped to avoid," he said.

This story Qld chief health officer defends decision after Canberra woman misses dad's funeral first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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