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Peter Dutton's border force approved Tom Hanks' return to Australia

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/09/2020 Amy Remeikis and Paul Karp
Tom Hanks wearing a suit and tie: Photograph: Matt Licari/Invision/AP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Matt Licari/Invision/AP

Peter Dutton’s department provided federal approvals for Tom Hanks and 11 other family, staff, cast and crew to enter Australia, despite the home affairs minister accusing the Queensland government of rolling out the red carpet for the Hollywood star.

Annastacia Palaszczuk pointed the finger at Dutton’s Australian Border Force at a committee hearing on Friday, after Dutton told Channel Nine the state government had allowed “Tom Hanks from California”, while blocking “Tom Hanks from Chermside or Castle Hill”.

Guardian Australia has confirmed federal involvement, including that Queensland chief health officer, Jeannette Young, wrote to ABF commissioner Michael Outram supporting an exemption for Hanks and 11 other family, staff, cast and crew.

The spat is part of a broader federal public relations offensive seeking to discredit Queensland’s travel ban by targeting decisions such as the refusal to grant an exemption to Canberra woman Sarah Caisip to attend her father’s funeral in Brisbane.

Related: Palaszczuk shows emotional side as attacks over Queensland border closure take their toll

Although Western Australia is the only state to formally refuse to reopen its border by Christmas, Queensland has not agreed to the commonwealth’s definition of a coronavirus hotspot, giving it latitude to refuse arrivals from states with low or no community transmission until well after the 31 October state election.

Tom Hanks wearing a suit and tie: Tom Hanks is in Australia to complete filming of an Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann and is currently in quarantine with crew members. © Photograph: Matt Licari/Invision/AP Tom Hanks is in Australia to complete filming of an Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann and is currently in quarantine with crew members.

Border restrictions are set to be eased in the Northern Territory, which announced on Friday that, from 9 October, greater Sydney will no longer be classified as a hotspot, allowing residents to travel to the Top End without 14 days quarantine.

On Friday, Dutton said all governments “want to make sure that everybody’s health is taken care of, but at the moment this indiscriminate application of the border restrictions is really having a very negative impact on people’s mental health and it is really devastating families … and there is no consistency”.

“If you are Tom Hanks from California, you are okay.

“If you are Tom Hanks from Chermside or Castle Hill, sorry, you are not coming in, even to your brother’s funeral or your dying daughter. It is just unacceptable.”

Dutton said the problem was of Palaszczuk’s making and called on her to fix it “sooner than later”.

Hanks is in Australia to complete filming of an Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann. He and the other crew are quarantining at the production’s expense at a Gold Coast hotel.

The quarantine arrangement is set out in the Queensland’s film industry Covid-safe plan, with crew subject to the same confinement to their rooms and random checks by police, although the hotel is not a designated quarantine hotel.

The LNP opposition leader, Deb Frecklington, has also criticised the arrangement, accusing the Queensland government of “double standards” and suggesting it amounts to celebrities choosing where to quarantine.

Palaszczuk was asked about the controversy at an economics and governance committee hearing into the Queensland government’s Covid-19 response.

She replied: “In relation to allowing that film to happen, I understand that our department had to write to the federal government through border force to get that approval.”

Related: Morrison says Australia risks 'losing its humanity' after woman denied permission to attend father's funeral

“So, there was a federal – my understanding is that there was federal approvals as well for the film to continue.”

Since Australia closed its borders in March, all departures and arrivals have required exemptions from the ABF. After the production sought an exemption from ABF, Young wrote to Outram on 30 June supporting the application by confirming that Queensland would accommodate cast and crew.

In July, the federal government announced $400m of funding to attract international film and television productions to Australia.

Guardian Australia has contacted the ABF and Dutton for comment.

On Thursday, Scott Morrison said that he was “mystified” by Queensland’s decision to refuse to allow Caisip to attend her father’s funeral, telling Sky News that such decisions meant Australia is “in danger” of losing its humanity.

“We have got to find a better way to deal with the heart here.”

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