An 86-year-old grandfather has been left homeless and stranded overseas after the federal government denied him entry to Australia in the latest coronavirus border bungle by authorities.
Ronald Ward, 86, obtained a visa and sold his house in Britain to move to Sydney to be with his daughter and grandson in the final years of his life.
But the shock decision to deny him an exemption from coronavirus rules was revealed to the family on Wednesday night, leaving Mr Ward stranded in a London hotel with nothing but a suitcase. All his belongings are in a shipping container bound for Australia.
Mr Ward’s Australian daughter Claire, speaking to Hatch from her home in Dee Why on Sydney’s northern beaches on Saturday, said she was left distraught by the decision: “I’m beside myself with worry.”
Mr Ward, a British citizen, was granted a bridging visa in May while his Aged Parent visa was processed. The former interior designer subsequently sold his house and car and had been due to board a flight from London to Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
His doctor believes he is now at risk of a stroke if the matter is left unresolved for a prolonged time, as he is experiencing significant anxiety and depression brought on by the stress of the situation.
Mr Ward had applied for an exemption to travel to Australia, as required under COVID-19 restrictions, but was denied by government bureaucrats four days before his flight was to take off, despite having the bridging visa.
“Your circumstances have been assessed against the Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions … On the basis of the information provided, the Delegate has concluded that your circumstances do not outweigh the risk to the Australian community,” the email reads.
On 20 March, the Australian border was closed to non-citizens and non-residents, with limited exemptions only for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family to slow the spread of coronavirus to save lives.
Ms Ward said: “The fact that it said ‘Do not reply to this email’ was so impersonal and unconscionable. We’re just asking for a bit of compassion.”
On 20 March, the Australian border was closed to non-citizens and non-residents, with limited exemptions only for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Ms Ward cancelled her father’s flight to Sydney but is pleading with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to show compassion and let Mr Ward travel to his new home.
“I have felt a sense of hopelessness — my father is displaced and extremely anxious about where his future lies,” she said. “He was really looking forward to spending the next couple of years of his life with his family, who is really supportive and will look after him, to suddenly being on his own with none of his possessions.”
Mr Ward’s general practitioner, Sean Brink, has indicated he has serious concerns of his welfare because he is an insulin-dependent diabetic, and is experiencing anxiety and depression and a sense of hopelessness because of the ordeal.
“I believe any prolonged period of undetermined time with no resolution may lead to significant medical events, including stroke,” a letter from Mr Ward’s doctor read.
Dr Brink said he believed if Mr Ward was allowed to travel to Australia as planned, he would recover and sustain good health.
In a letter obtained by Hatch sent to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Mr Ward begs to be let into the country.
“Now I’m 86 years old, most of my friends have died so I’m now alone,” it reads.
“With your help I would like to spend my last few years with my family… so I may die a happy person.”
The office of Zali Steggall, Federal Member for Warringah, has been assisting, however, pleas from Ms Ward to the office of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram and the Prime Minister have been ignored.
In a statement to Hatch on Sunday, the Department of Home Affairs said it did not comment on individual cases, however, temporary visa holders require the ABF Commissioner to exercise his discretion if they intend to re-enter Australia.
“Preventing the entry of non-citizens also ensures availability of increased quarantine capacity for returning Australians… The primary consideration for the grant of any exemptions is the public health advice and risk posed by overseas travellers,” the statement read.
The case follows numerous complaints of bureaucrats and red tape preventing loved ones from seeing each other across state lines, including Queensland woman Sarah Caisip who was locked in hotel quarantine on the morning of her father’s funeral.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison even tried to intervene, phoning Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk on the morning of the funeral, to ask her to overturn the decision.
“It’s not about borders, it’s not about federation, it’s not about politicians or elections,” he told Ray Hadley on 4BC radio at the time.
Ms Ward is hoping the government will intervene to resolve the situation.
She is planning to file another exemption on compassionate grounds to include Mr Ward’s health conditions on Tuesday.
Mr Ward is meanwhile stuck in limbo, uncertain of his future.
UPDATE: We are pleased to report since Liam Mendes’s story was published to Hatch and The Australian, Mr Ward has been granted the exemption to travel to Australia.