A man who wants to travel to Australia from New Zealand to support his sick partner has been told he will not be allowed to enter the country, despite changes to travel restrictions that will see quarantine-free travel from New Zealand begin on Friday.
Paul Trotman, a doctor based in Dunedin, applied for a travel exemption from Australia's Department of Home Affairs last week, so he could join his Melbourne-based partner, who was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Australia's borders are currently closed to all except Australian citizens, residents and immediate family members, but exemptions can be granted to those seeking to travel for "compassionate and compelling reasons".
Trotman got a letter from his partner's surgeon explaining the situation, and filled in the exemption application, explaining he was from the South Island – which has been Covid-free since late May.
Announcing the creation of a "safe travel zone" earlier this month, the Australian Government said passengers from New Zealand would be able to travel to New South Wales and the Northern Territory without having to quarantine from October 16, provided they had not been in an area designated as a Covid-19 hotspot in the preceding 14 days.
Trotman planned to enter via Sydney on October 20, after the new rules came into force.
From there, he intended to take an internal flight to Melbourne. No permit or approval is required to enter Victoria from another state
"I thought, 'this is going to be pretty straightforward'," Trotman said.
But on Saturday, he received a response from Home Affairs saying his exemption request had been rejected, and he was still subject to the travel restrictions.
The email said: "On the basis of the information provided, the Delegate has concluded that your circumstances do not outweigh the risk to the Australian community."
Trotman said there was no way to appeal the decision or even reply to the email. When he rang Home Affairs for clarification, he was told to visit their website.
The Home Affairs website currently has no information about the limited trans-Tasman bubble, except for an alert message says "further details will be provided when available".
"We just went round and round in circles. I said, 'the rules are changing, what are the new rules?' [They said] 'We can't tell you'."
Trotman said he then contacted Air New Zealand, and was told he would be fine to book a flight.
"Air New Zealand said, 'no, it's absolutely fine, you can just get on the plane and go.... you won't have to quarantine, there's no special requirements before you get on the plane'."
However, when he checked with a travel agent, he was told that was not the case, and he would still need approval from Home Affairs.
"The issue is, can I travel to Sydney or not? Basically nobody knows," Trotman said.
"The risk is, if I fly to Sydney and Sydney says 'no, we won't let you in the country', then Air New Zealand won't let me come back again without having booked isolation in Auckland or Christchurch, I'm stuck in no man's land in Sydney."
An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said when booking travel to Australia from New Zealand, customers are prompted to check what local travel regulations apply via a pop-up box.
She referred Stuff to Australian authorities for more information.
The Department of Home Affairs has been approached for comment.
Rosann Connolly-George, director at Dunedin-based travel agency Vincent George Travel, said she was concerned people were buying flights to Australia without realising they still required a travel exemption.
"Probably a good percentage are going to be turned away at the airport, and that's a very sad thing – and their money will be lost," she said.
"There is no comeback on people's flights when they haven't got the right documentation."