Queensland families have shared their heartbreaking stories of being denied or ignored exemptions in crucial, distressing times.
Queensland families have shared their heartbreaking stories of being denied or ignored exemptions in crucial, distressing times.

Heartbroken families denied exemptions

Queensland families have shared their heartbreaking stories of being denied or ignored exemptions in crucial, distressing times.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has come under fire over her tough stance on borders, and the inconsistency with exemptions.

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The state has been brewing with rage when it was revealed Sarah Caisip wrestled with the Queensland Government to see her dying father on their final Father's Day, only to also be barred from attending his funeral and supporting her sister and mother.

More stories of similar nature have emerged.

The Courier-Mail spoke with one woman from Ballina who was unable to get an exemption to see her mum who had a stroke in Queensland, only to then be unable to attend the funeral.

Another woman, Sandra Shea, tearfully spoke about how her late husband's son was allowed to visit his dying father for two hours in hospital, only for him to be denied approval to attend the funeral days later.

A Queensland Health spokesperson said: "We know this is tough, but this about preventing more people dying".

"We've seen what happens when things don't go right in other states and other countries, and we're working so hard to protect Queenslanders from those same consequences."


Sandra Shea

A Queensland woman has tearfully shared the "inhumane" heartbreak her family has suffered after her late husband's adult son was denied an exemption to his funeral, on the day of the painful event.

Sandra Shea is heartbroken beyond belief, but wants her story to be heard as she believes many other families have quietly experienced the same "inhumanity" of having loved ones barred from funerals.

Ms Shea's late husband John Holmes had two sons from a previous relationship, while one was in the UK and couldn't arrive home, the other lives in Canberra, and was given and exemption to visit his father for two hours in hospital.

John Holmes passed away from cancer. His son, who received an exemption to visit him when sick, was later denied an exemption to attend his funeral.
John Holmes passed away from cancer. His son, who received an exemption to visit him when sick, was later denied an exemption to attend his funeral.

He luckily saw his father before he passed away on Wednesday 2nd September, and was left to grieve the loss while alone in mandatory quarantine in Brisbane.

"Because his son was alone with his grief in the hotel we were very worried about him spending time there," Ms Shea told The Courier-Mail.

"We decided we would make the funeral as quickly as we could so they weren't stuck in the hotel room as long, not thinking for a minute they wouldn't get an exemption to come."

Ms Shea recounted the exhausting attempts made to get an exemption for her stepson, with the whole family on the phone many times a day speaking to different people, submitting new requests and amending requests every day in desperation.

In what the family feel is a cruel twist, there was no written acknowledgment until the night of the funeral, Monday 7th September, when Mr Holmes' son was told he wasn't granted an exemption despite the funeral having already passed and he was already back home in Canberra, defeated after exhausting all efforts to try and be there.

"My husband would be heartbroken if he knew his son was there and wasn't able to come to his funeral, he would be heartbroken," Ms Shea tearfully said.

John Holmes, who passed away from cancer, and his wife Sandra Shea
John Holmes, who passed away from cancer, and his wife Sandra Shea

"He would be mortified, and if this has happened to us and to Sarah (Caisip), than it's happened to many, many other people who in their grief can't speak out or don't know who to talk to."

Mr Holmes' brother and sister-in-law were also granted access to visit him, but were too denied an exemption to be at the funeral which meant his brother presented the eulogy by video.

Ms Shea tearfully recalled how her daughter, Mr Holmes' stepdaughter, stepped in to be the pallbearer as her stepfather's two sons couldn't do it themselves.

"My husband had no body from his side of the family at his funeral. We've been married 11 years, and he had no body from his side of the family," Ms Shea said.

"His mother is 94, she's in NSW and in care. She is heartbroken, heartbroken, not only that she couldn't be here, but that her son - which is my husband's brother - and her grandson couldn't be at her son's funeral.

"The heartbreak for her is unimaginable. There is no humanity."

The family are particularly frustrated at the double standard, where Mr Holmes' son, brother and sister-in-law were all barred from the funeral, which had a COVID-safe plan, but were allowed to wander the airports where there was no social distancing.




Ros McConville and Gabrielle Manning

TWO sisters are devastated after their mother died while they were awaiting exemptions from Queensland Health to visit her and then were forced to miss her funeral.

Ballina woman Gabrielle Manning applied for an exemption over-the-phone to visit her dying mother on September 1, and even drove to the border twice in desperate attempts to visit her.

Ms Manning, who is in her 50s, said she has still not received any response.

"I feel that if they look in your area and they find there haven't been any Covid-cases in your area, they shouldn't be declaring it a hotspot," she said.

"There should be considerations made for that, there is nobody with it in my area, I live in Ballina."

Ms Manning's sister Ros McConville, who lives in Melbourne, was so disgusted by the exemption process that she now believes Queensland Health is deliberately delaying granting end-of-life exemptions after waiting more than four days to get a response to visit her dying mother.

"I believe this a deliberate, delayed tactic to move from an end-of-life conversation, which is a little bit murky (about exemptions) but the laws clearly state there is no exemption for attending funerals," Ms McConville said.

"I believe this is a deliberate tactic to make people wait, they know they're vulnerable, most people are just going to wait, they are immobilised by grief and the only way you can get some action is by contacting the Prime Minister in some cases which is clearly where I went wrong.

"It's completely mind-blowing how inhumane this all is."

After her mother's death, Ms McConville wrote a letter to the Health Minister suggesting her own Covid-safe plan to attend her mother's funeral: she would be picked up from the airport by a family member, be driven straight to Warwick for a private burial and quarantine at the family home for 14 days or fly straight back to Melbourne after the burial.

"I could come and stay in Brisbane for 14 days, what is the purpose of that? There were two things my mum hated: cold and plastic. I couldn't bear the thought of them holding up the funeral. I couldn't say 'oh yeah let's hold off the funeral for 14 days," she said.

"Then to find f***ing Scott Morrison intervenes for one person, it's completely outrageous and disrespectful to all of the families who have been knocked back like mine."


Walker Timu

A Queensland man desperate for a border exemption so he can return home to his elderly mum says he has considered camping at the borderline.

Walker Timu is the sole carer of his elderly mother, who also cares for his two nieces - one of which is severely autistic - he said he is at wits end waiting for some acknowledgment on his exemption application.

"I applied for an exemption maybe 24 days ago, and I send them messages every day only because I haven't been getting any response," he said.

"All I'm getting is the same run around everyone else is getting, that there's a whole lot of people applying for exemptions and they can't get through them all."

Mr Timu needed to travel from Queensland to NSW to see his brother, and once the hard border closures were announced he believed he would be able to return on a medical exemption as he is his mother's carer. He has now been stuck in NSW for over a month waiting.

He has emotionally recounted how his mother calls every day crying that she doesn't know how long she can keep going without his help.

"She looks after my nieces, she's actually had custody of them and has had them their whole lives since they were born," he said.

"They are now 12 and 14, and the 12-year-old is severely autistic, so just her on her own is a lot for my mum without me being there, it's really stressing me out and there's nothing I can do."

The waiting around without any response has impacted Mr Timu's mental health, who said at one point he wouldn't have cared if he was arrested because he wanted to come home so badly.

"I was getting to the point where I was actually going to get another COVID test and crash through the border. I didn't care about being arrested as long as I was there and a bit closer so mum could see me.

"It's gotten that bad."

Mr Timu told The Courier-Mail he has today received word from Queensland Health that they are processing his exemption and will hear back in the next few days.


Originally published as Bordering on inhumane: Victims share stories