Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under fire for accepting exemptions for a Father’s Day trip to Sydney to see his family, with Labor accusing him of “appalling judgment” after crossing borders with the nation’s two biggest states in hard lockdowns.
“You’ve got to have the same rules for people,” former opposition leader Bill Shorten said on Tuesday.
Mr Morrison has been in Canberra for several weeks as federal parliament sat in the capital.
Flight records showed a taxpayer-funded Dassault Falcon 7X jet – a private plane operated by the Royal Australian Air Force – travelled from Canberra to Sydney and back again on Saturday afternoon. Another Dassault flew from Canberra to Sydney and back on Monday morning.
Mr Morrison’s office confirmed he briefly returned to Sydney at the weekend – including Father’s Day on Sunday – before returning to Canberra on Monday. Both cities are in lockdown, but people coming from Canberra do not need an exemption to travel into NSW.
Mr Morrison did, however, need to seek an exemption from the ACT government to return to the territory.
Usually that would be accompanied by 14 days quarantine, but he was given an exemption to return for meetings, with the PM classed as an “essential worker”.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said on Monday that he was “sure [Mr Morrison] has abided by the requirements”.
Senior Coalition ministers such as Josh Frydenberg and Barnaby Joyce have previously been granted exemptions to enter the ACT under strict COVID measures. But most MPs from Sydney or Melbourne have recently been forced into a mandatory two weeks isolation before being able to join parliament.
On Monday, Mr Morrison’s office posted photos of him in Parliament and in his office, walking alongside Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston, as he appeared via video link at the government’s summit on women’s safety.
His office said he had to return to the ACT to securely attend a meeting of cabinet’s national security committee, which it said could not be done from Sydney.
Mr Morrison did not note his re-entry to Sydney on social media. On Sunday, he posted a Father’s Day message on social media, using a seven-month-old photo of himself with his wife and daughters.
The photo was taken from the launch of i4Give Day in January, in commemoration of the four children from the Abdallah and Sakr families who were killed in a car crash in Sydney.
“Being a dad is a special gift that we are given in life. It is a great blessing in our lives. On the day this photo was taken of our family together earlier this year I was reminded of just how precious that gift it is,” Mr Morrison wrote alongside the photo.
“To all the dads, have a great day and never forget how fortunate we are to have the tremendous opportunity to love, cherish and care for our kids.”
Privately, senior Labor sources were livid at the news of Mr Morrison’s trip. They questioned why the Prime Minister needed to return to Canberra at all, claiming he could have conducted the national security committee meeting from Sydney.
Some compared it to Mr Morrison’s infamous, secret trip to Hawaii during the ‘black summer’ bushfires. Mr Shorten pointed out in a tweet that Mr Morrison had only last week criticised Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk for granting border exemptions to the families of rugby league players – a decision she later admitted was wrong.
Scott Morrison is facing growing criticism after it was revealed he was allowed to fly to Sydney on a private tax-payer funded jet to spend Father's Day with his family. Do you think the PM should have been granted an exemption? #9Today pic.twitter.com/SZv4SoGNlK
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) September 6, 2021
Labor leader Anthony Albanese also returned to Sydney last week. He had been away from his home city for months, choosing not to return to its lockdown so he could keep working in Canberra and across the country. Mr Albanese will likely remain in Sydney until parliament returns in October.
Labor’s shadow minister for government accountability, Kristina Keneally, pointed out that many Australians in lockdown had not been able to get exemptions to see their families.
“It’s lovely that Mr Morrison was able to spend Father’s Day with his daughters and I am sure they were happy to see him, but millions of Australians are in lockdown, separated from their families every day, because Mr Morrison failed to fix quarantine and secure enough vaccines,” she said.
“Now that Mr Morrison is back in Canberra I hope he spends his time setting up quarantine that keeps us safe, and getting the vaccine rollout fixed – if he doesn’t do these two jobs, then the rest of us have very little hope of seeing our loved ones any time soon.”
ScoMo suffering from short term memory loss. Last week he criticised QLD for letting in NRL WAGs for family reunions, but then takes himself off for a weekend in Sydney for Father’s Day. Double standards. https://t.co/h52JDItmfz
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) September 6, 2021
Mr Shorten was more critical.
“It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to see his kids, but so does every other Australian,” he told Nine’s Today show.
“When people are doing it tough, you’ve got to do it tough too.”
“You can’t have one rule for Mr Morrison and one rule for everyone else. I just think it’s appalling judgment.”
Mr Morrison has not yet responded publicly to criticism of his trip.