Advocacy groups have weighed in on the auditor general's report which showed Home Affairs did not fully comply with travel exemptions during the pandemic.
Human Rights Legal Centre has slammed the findings from the Australian National Audit Office which uncovered inconsistencies in the implementation of inward and outward visa exemptions while international borders were tightly shut.
The same report also found senior figures within the Department of Home Affairs failed to pass on the results of a pandemic "stress test" to then-minister Peter Dutton two years before COVID-19 arrived in Australia.
Senior lawyer from HRLC, Scott Cosgriff flagged the policies put in place by the government over the course of the pandemic have kept families apart and placed additional burdens on visa holders, and overall lacked oversight by the government.
"These findings reflect the strain on people who have been separated from their loved ones during the pandemic, and forced to beg for rare exemptions simply to avoid missing out on critical moments in their lives," Mr Cosgriff said.
"The process for granting exemptions from the travel ban lacks parliamentary oversight, has no review rights, is opaque, and does not have adequate grounds for compassionate exemptions."
Mr Cosgriff also noted the recent extension of the visa exemption scheme would only further frustrate the system and highlighted an urgent need to overhaul the system.
The ANAO report did note inward visa exemption had improved.
"The Morrison government must ensure that decision-making on something as critical as whether a person can be with their loved ones is fair, transparent and subject to oversight," Mr Cosgriff said.
In early 2018, governmental departments undertook pandemic-planning scenario following requests from Home Affairs department secretary Mike Pezzullo.
However the results including the issues it uncovered, never reached the minister's office until one month after Australia entered lockdown in 2020.
The ANAO report revealed an annotation on a draft ministerial submission intended for the minister, suggesting it had not been sent because the results highlighted "significant concerns not being, or not able to be, addressed".
The stress test in the pandemic plan was based on a scenario where a outbreak commencing in China had occurred and escalated in severity over a nine-month period.
The report found Mr Pezzullo was never provided a copy of the draft ministerial submission of the results either.
It was also noted that mass travel restrictions nor quarantine was not included in the pandemic response plan.
HRLC in July provided a submission to a parliamentary committee that a range of travel restrictions imposed were keeping families apart and preventing some leaving or entering on compassionate grounds.
It is also advocating humanitarian visa holders should be granted the same coming and going exemptions as citizens and permanent residents.
"The Auditor General's review was limited to how the Morrison government administered its own policies," HRLC said in a statement.
"It did not confront the flaws in the policy decisions that led to unfair impacts on many people separated from loved ones during the pandemic."
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