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"Hugely disappointing" Port Adelaide border controversy prompts inquiry

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The Premier’s Department will conduct an inquiry into a “frustrating” SA Health decision to allow Victorian relatives of Port Adelaide Football Club players into the state, amid revelations that a senior public servant with Port connections acted as a middle person for the families.

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Marshall and SA chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said this morning that the independent inquiry would be led by the Premier’s department, with the results to be made public.

It follows revelations yesterday afternoon that a SA Health worker inappropriately granted 11 relatives of Port Adelaide Football Club players special exemptions to come to South Australia from Victoria to watch Port’s upcoming two finals games at Adelaide Oval.

Since then, it has emerged that SA Tourism Commission’s Events SA executive director Hitaf Rasheed, who previously worked at the Port Adelaide Football Club for 10 years as its communications general manager, acted as a middle person to connect the players’ families with SA Health.

Five of those family members are already here in hotel quarantine at their own expense, but Spurrier, who was only made aware of the case late yesterday afternoon, has revoked the exemptions for the other six relatives “because it is absolutely entirely inappropriate at this point in time”.

Travel exemptions are supposed to be decided by a full SA Health panel and only granted to people with compelling compassionate reasons.

There’s a high level of frustration and so there should be

Spurrier said the SA Health worker who made the decision without consulting the panel has been counselled and is feeling “extremely remorseful”.

Fox Sports this morning reported that the family members include those related to high-profile stars Ollie Wines, Travis Boak, Robbie Gray, Tom Clurey, Tom Rockliff and Darcy Byrne-Jones.

It was reported that Gray’s mother, Wines’ parents and Clurey’s parents were yet to travel to South Australia despite receiving special travel exemptions, although they had already made the decision to remain in Victoria instead of spending 14 days in hotel quarantine.

Rasheed said in a media statement this morning that she “helped to initially connect a representative of the families to SA Health and then left the decision-making process to the relevant health officials to work through”.

“SATC (SA Tourism Commission) doesn’t have any say in how SA Health view applications or approvals,” her statement said.

Marshall said Department of the Premier and Cabinet chief executive Jim McDowell would appoint somebody to do an external review of SA Health’s travel exemptions process.

But he rejected the assertion that there was “something untoward”, saying the travel exemptions process “does work well” and a review was only needed “out of an abundance of caution”.

“There’s a high level of frustration and so there should be,” he said.

“This is hugely disappointing and it creates that, if you like, us versus them (mentality).

“There will be a review and I’m very happy for the results of that review to be released.

“If there are opportunities to improve well, of course, we’re going to take those up.”

Health Minister Stephen Wade told parliament this afternoon that Marshall was only informed of the travel exemptions after he was questioned by a member of the media yesterday afternoon.

SA Premier Steven Marshall and chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier. Photo: David Mariuz/AAP

Spurrier said that SA Health chief executive Chris McGowan had also spoken to McDowell about having an external investigator with bureaucratic and administrative experience to review the travel exemption process.

She said the inquiry would examine the panel’s composition, administration and appeals process “to make sure this doesn’t happen again”.

“Most people who know me (know) that I don’t often get upset, but I can tell you I was upset when I heard this news yesterday,” she said.

“I have moved very quickly to get on the phone and make sure that those other three exemptions were revoked before we had anybody else travelling from Victoria inappropriately.”

InDaily asked both SA Health and the Department of the Premier and Cabinet who they had chosen to lead the external investigation, when the inquiry would take place and what was the proposed scope.

A spokesperson for the DPC said the department was “currently working on these details and will announce further information accordingly”.

There is no suggestion that there has been any interference or personal gain from this

InDaily also asked Rasheed why she acted as a middle person to facilitate the exemptions process, how she connected them to SA Health and whether her actions were carried out in her official role as Events SA executive director, but did not receive a response.

Spurrier told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that she “didn’t know” that Rasheed was a former Port Adelaide Football Club employee.

“That’s news to me,” she said, when asked about the connection by breakfast host Ali Clarke.

“We’d obviously worked fairly closely when the AFL bid for the grand finals was put together, but I had no knowledge of this.”

Spurrier said she only heard about Rasheed’s involvement late last night and didn’t know how contact was made between SA Health and the players’ families.

Rasheed played a key role in SA’s push to host this year’s AFL grand final – an ultimately unsuccessful bid that was marred by controversy after it was revealed that top AFL executives including CEO Gillon McLachlan would be exempt from quarantine for 14 days if Adelaide Oval won the right to host the high-profile event.

Marshall said that the granting of travel exemptions was not a political decision, but a process led by SA Health.

He said his office was asked on an “hourly basis” to advocate for people wanting to receive travel exemptions, including past requests from members of parliament and his predecessor Jay Weatherill, but the process was “completely and utterly independent” from his purview.

“This wasn’t an error from the football club, it wasn’t an error if you like even from the parents making the application, it was an error of judgement from the person doing the approval within SA Health,” he said.

“There is no suggestion that there has been any interference or personal gain from this.”

Fox Sports reported that Port Adelaide Football Club wrote to the AFL last week asking if there was a possibility of special quarantine for families of players, but the response was a “firm no” and Port accepted the decision.

The club told InDaily yesterday that it had “no involvement in facilitating the request at all.”

Spurrier told ABC Radio Adelaide that the Victorian family members who are already in South Australia would not be sent back to the eastern state.

“My job is really to look at public health and safety and if we took somebody who was at a higher risk of developing the disease, got them back to the airport and back on the plane then that actually puts more risk to the public in terms of the transmission of this disease,” she said.

“In a hotel quarantine room they’re paying for that themselves and that’s the safest place for them in terms of public health.”

It comes as South Australia yesterday reported two new cases of coronavirus – a man and a woman in their 20s who had returned from overseas.

They came into Adelaide from Doha on Sunday.

They have a young child who has so far tested negative.

They are all in hotel quarantine.

A security guard at the hotel is now also in quarantine.

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