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Port Adelaide exemptions 'mistakenly' approved without any documented reasons: report

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One of South Australia’s deputy chief public health officers’ signatures was used without his consent to “mistakenly” approve travel exemptions for 11 Victorian relatives of Port Adelaide Football Club players, a report into the SA Health bungle has revealed.

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The report, published on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet website this afternoon, makes 13 recommendations following revelations last month that a SA Health staff member wrongly allowed the relatives to travel into SA without the consent of the broader SA Health exemptions committee.

The 12-page document, compiled by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s business and projects director Wayne Hunter, stops short of naming the person behind the bungle, only going so far as to note that deputy chief public health officer Dr Evan Everest’s electronic signature was “mistakenly” used to grant the exemptions.

“There are no documented reasons as to why the footballer family applications were approved,” the report states.

“Nor is there any record of approval by the Deputy Chief Public Health Officer (only his electronic signature applied by others).

“In relation to the footballer families, it appears to be the view of SA Health that the desire to attend a sporting event involving family members does not justify an increase in overall risk of COVID-19 entering the South Australian community.

“It is for that reason the Chief Public Health Officer publicly announced that the power to grant an exemption from cross border travel restrictions should not have been exercised to allow footballer families entry into the state.”

According to the report, Events SA executive director and former Port Adelaide staffer Hitaf Rasheed emailed SA Health about Victorian family members of the players seeking to travel to South Australia.

SA Health’s exemptions team was forwarded the email on September 14, with the head of that team forwarding the email to Everest on September 15.

The travel exemptions were granted by a letter electronically signed by Everest that day.

“There are no documents to confirm Dr Everest approved use of his electronic signature to grant the exemptions, or that otherwise set out the basis for the decision to grant the exemptions,” the report states.

“The head of SA Health’s exemptions team recalls a conversation with Dr Everest on 15 September 2020, during which she understood Dr Everest approved the footballer family exemptions and authorised use of his electronic signature.

“Dr Everest does not recall any specific conversation about the footballer family applications, but believes it would have been out of character for him to grant an exemption noting recent decisions to refuse exemption applications from other high-profile sports people.

“Dr Everest notes that while he cannot recall any specific conversation with the exemptions team about the footballer families, it is possible that he approved referring the applications to the exemptions committee (which would be the ordinary approach for an application of this type) and that was mistakenly interpreted to mean he had approved the applications.”

The report clears Rasheed of any wrongdoing, saying her action was only to “direct applications to SA Health, for them to seek to be exempt from cross border travel restrictions”.

It states the head of SA Health’s exemptions team, who is unnamed, “confirmed that she felt no pressure or outside influence in relation to the applications”.

“It is clear from the interviews conducted with SA Health and SAPOL that both organisations have made an extraordinary effort to protect the community from the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, with examples of people working many hours since the start of the pandemic,” the report states.

“They have created and established new systems for never before seen border restrictions in urgent circumstances – and are driving to continually improve and refine those systems.

“It is a remarkable effort that should be acknowledged – with recognition that it is simply not possible or realistic to expect there will not be areas for improvement as we learn and build on what has been put in place to respond to the immediate threat posed by COVID-19.”

Recommendations made in the report include better documentation of reasons for exemptions approvals, more stringent processes for the use of electronic signatures and including a person with a legal background on the exemptions committee.

Premier Steven Marshall told reporters after the release of the report that all the recommendations would be accepted and implemented “as a matter of priority”.

He described the approval of the travel exemptions as an “isolated incident” and a “wrong decision”.

“An error was made and unlike other jurisdictions we are actually owning up to that error,” he said.

“I have apologised for it. We have put this review process in place. It’s made 13 recommendations.

“We are implementing every single one of them.”

Read the full report here:

– with additional reporting by Jemma Chapman 

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