Labor asks why Tony Abbott granted second travel ban exemption while 30,000 Australians stranded overseas | Tony Abbott

Labor is demanding answers on why former prime minister Tony Abbott appears to have been granted a second travel ban exemption to leave Australia just weeks after completing hotel quarantine in Sydney, while close to 30,000 Australians wait in the queue to return home.

Local news agencies in Rome reported on the weekend that Abbott was one of 45 in attendance at a mass conducted by Cardinal George Pell at the chapel of Domus Australia to mark the 10th anniversary of the canonisation of Mother Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint.

It was Pell’s first mass since 2017, and the first since he returned to Rome after the Australian high court overturned his conviction for child sexual abuse.

According to America Magazine, Abbott was already in Rome “on other business”, but Abbott’s reported trip overseas is only a month after he returned to Sydney and spent two weeks in hotel quarantine, after a short trip to the United Kingdom.

Since a ban was put in place preventing Australians leaving the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Australians seeking to go overseas need to apply for an exception on “compelling and compassionate” grounds.

At least 20% of applications have been rejected, and it can take at least two weeks for applications to be approved.

Abbott was granted an exemption to visit the UK in August, when he was appointed a trade envoy to the Boris Johnson government.

The Australian reported on 14 September Abbott had paid for his own $3,000 stay in hotel quarantine on his return to Australia.

The former prime minister’s first exemption sparked anger because exemptions have been limited, including for those attempting to go overseas for family funerals or to see dying relatives.

Those who go overseas for a short time add to the queue of close to 30,000 Australians currently waiting to return from overseas, who have been unable to get back due to the caps on the number of returned travellers in hotel quarantine in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, indicated Labor would raise the questions on Tuesday afternoon with Department of Home Affairs officials in Senate estimates around Abbott’s second trip, and whether the former prime minister would get a second spot in hotel quarantine.

Keneally tweeted Abbott “got an exemption in August to travel to the UK, & took a quarantine spot on his return in September”.

“He appears to have left again (Rome) & must quarantine again when he returns.”

When asked about Abbott’s first trip on ABC’s Insiders program last month, the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, said exceptions were granted on compassionate, as well as business grounds, but it was the states preventing more people returning.

“But your question is about whether somebody could go now and expect to get back into Brisbane airport in a week’s time or a month’s time,” he said.

“The reality is that they can’t at the moment because the Queensland government has put a cap on the number of beds. So we’ll look at the individual circumstances, and there are many, many cases where we’ve allowed people to go.”

Australian Border Force, Tony Abbott’s office, and Domus Australia, which organised the mass, have been contacted for comment.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced last week the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory would be used to bring back more Australians stranded overseas, including 4,000 identified by the government as being vulnerable.

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