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The key criteria needed to make it across WA's tough borders may not be what you think

ABC Health logo ABC Health 30/07/2020 By Rebecca Turner
a man standing in front of a truck: Thousands of people are looking to enter or return to Western Australia. (ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas) © Provided by ABC Health Thousands of people are looking to enter or return to Western Australia. (ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

Thousands of people are trying to get into Western Australia, and some of them are simply trying to return to their home or support their family during an emotional time.

But under the WA Government's tough border restrictions — which became even stricter after the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria — they are finding it hard to get an exemption to enter the state on compassionate grounds.

So how does the system work?

Under the WA State of Emergency, the Police Commissioner — as State Emergency Coordinator — has directed that no-one can enter WA unless they are an exempt traveller.

Unfortunately under the "hard borders" policy, if you've left the state, you can't necessarily come back home.

There are quite a few workers who do qualify for an exemption, including military personnel, emergency service workers, medical workers government officials, federal politicians and their staff.

They were among the about 400 exempt travellers entering WA each day, as of last week, according to Police Commissioner Chris Dawson.

But there are many people who want to return to their home town but can't because their application to enter on compassionate grounds has been rejected, often multiple times.

It's this category of exemption that appears to have caused the most controversy and distress, especially for those whose home is in WA but now find themselves stuck in other Australian states.

How do I apply for an exemption to enter WA?

You can apply for an exemption to enter WA — known as a G2G pass — online or by email, although the first option is quickest.

Only adults and unaccompanied minors need to apply for the pass containing a unique QR code, or barcode which can be read by a smartphone.

Your QR code, either in paper or on your smartphone, will be scanned when you enter WA to check whether your purpose for being in WA has been approved.

What's needed for a compassionate grounds application?

You need to satisfy two key criteria: a safe place to quarantine and evidence of a compassionate reason.

Many people may not realise that where they nominate to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in WA has a big impact on the success of their application.

Your application is likely to be instantly rejected if you are not isolating in hotel quarantine and do not have a suitable place — such your own bedroom and bathroom within a private home — as well as someone to support you.

"Some people may be saying, 'I've got to quarantine but I've only got a three-by-one unit that I'm going to quarantine in,'" Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Dreibergs says.

"Well, that's not sufficient. You've got to at least have a house with separate bathrooms, separate bedrooms and an ability for that person to quarantine in that house."

Then you need to mount and prove an argument that you have a claim to enter WA for compassionate reasons.

Deputy Commissioner Dreibergs says you will need strong evidence, such as official documents, like school enrolment forms, birth or death certificates or a letter from your doctor.

"If you say you've got a mental health matter, we need to see evidence that is a significant mental health issue and the cure for that is coming to Western Australia and being here, and not being treated in Victoria, for instance," he said.

So how do they decide if my reasons are legitimate?

This is where the process becomes quite subjective, with each application assessed on a case-by-case basis by individual police officers.

Unusually for a bureaucracy, WA Police has no official guidelines for officers to follow.

"You can't write a rule for compassionate circumstances, unfortunately," Deputy Commissioner Dreibergs says.

Instead, officers follow what WA Police call "guiding principles", with serious consideration given to people who are in a position of harm or extreme hardship.

It's not clear exactly when these principles were introduced but they are, in descending order of importance:

• That there is evidence of the applicant's circumstances

• That the applicant could suffer harm or extreme hardship, which may be financial, medical, physical or psychological

• That the risk associated with the applicant, as well as the overall risk to the WA community, has been assessed

It's a busy workload for these officers, with more than 1,700 people a day applying to return to WA, and a backlog of thousands of resubmitted applications.

Junior officers are processing and, if deemed necessary, rejecting applications, while approvals are handled by a sergeant or more senior officer, and can even reach Police Commissioner Chris Dawson's desk.

"We always take health advice," Commissioner Dawson says.

What if I want to escape interstate COVID-19 outbreaks?

Well it's not good news. Deputy Commissioner Dreibergs says applications from New South Wales and Victoria are being scrutinised more closely.

"We have to weigh up so many things which is about protecting this border and protecting this state," he said.

"We've been told very specifically that we do not want people arriving from Victoria and New South Wales unless there's absolute significant compassionate or real difficult hardship."

Is there an appeals process?

No, your only option is to resubmit your application.

Many people are trying their luck, with WA Police dealing with more than 2,200 resubmitted applications as of Wednesday this week.

But some people, such as WA-born Beauden Gellard and his wife Giang Nguyen, have had their exemption rejections reversed after highlighting problems with the process in the media.

Initially the couple, who had been living in Vietnam, used the same documentation, but WA-born Mr Gellard's application was rejected while his Vietnamese wife's was approved.

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