PM accused of 'appalling judgement' over Sydney lockdown visit

The Prime Minister has defended travelling from Canberra to Sydney during COVID-19 lockdowns, arguing criticism of the trip is nothing more than a “cheap shot”.

Scott Morrison took an RAAF VIP jet to Sydney on Friday and spent several days in his home city, including Father’s Day, before returning to Canberra yesterday. 

He received approval from ACT Health to return to the capital, without having to spend two weeks in quarantine, subject to conditions such as regular COVID-19 testing.

“I can understand [people’s] frustration, but I do think there has been a lot of misinformation about this,” Mr Morrison told Sky News.

“I live in Sydney. I often have to be [in Canberra] for work, there was no requirement to get an exemption to go to Sydney.

“The exemption I require is to come back here to the ACT and, as Prime Minister, of course I need to come back to the ACT.”

Mr Morrison hit back at criticism from federal Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten, who accused Mr Morrison of showing “appalling judgement” in taking the trip.

“Bill knows that the Prime Minister needs to go back and forwards between these places, to do the work, he understands that secure documents, secure discussions that need to be held, so he knows all of that,” Mr Morrison said.

“And so, frankly, it’s a bit of a cheap shot, particularly given the leader of the Labor Party and I both understand these arrangements and don’t take issue with them.

“It’s just cheap politics.”

Earlier, federal Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten told Channel Nine he was surprised the Prime Minister had decided to go ahead with the trip.

“I was a bit surprised when I read he had done this, to be honest,” Mr Shorten told Channel Nine. 

“It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to see his kids, but so does every other Australian, and I think when your people are doing it tough, you’ve got to do it tough too,” he said.

“You can’t have one rule for Mr Morrison and another rule for everyone else. I just think it’s appalling judgement.” 

Bill Shorten sitting in his House of Representatives office
Bill Shorten says he was surprised to hear the Prime Minister had travelled to Sydney. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)

The Prime Minister insisted he had not tried to mislead the public by posting an older photo of his family on Instagram to mark Father’s Day, when he was in fact in Sydney.

Mr Morrison also argued his travel was within the ACT’s COVID-19 rules, which considers federal politicians to be essential workers.

“There has been no special rules or exemptions provided to my family, they’ve remained there and they’ve remained separated from me for quite a long period of time,” he said.

“And when the rules enable me to come back to Canberra, having returned home, then they’re the rules as the ACT Chief Minister himself has set out today.”

MPs allowed into the ACT
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he understood why the community was angry, but said the ACT needed to ensure parliamentarians could come to Canberra for essential work. 

“A situation like this, I understand, can cause concern and it’s not really a particularly good look,” he said.

“[The Prime Minister] is ultimately accountable to the Australian community for those decisions – but what we do need to do is ensure our democracy can continue to function, and we do need to have in place a regime that does allow federal parliament and federal parliamentarians to undertake their essential activities in Canberra.

Scott Morrison smiles with four other people outside an old English building with a signpost advertising the Inn.
Scott Morrison was criticised earlier this year for taking time during an official UK trip to trace his ancestry.(Facebook: Jamaica Inn)

“I can understand community frustration at what they would perceive the Prime Minister has done in relation to a trip home over the weekend.

“You are free to leave the ACT – he’s then obviously free to apply for an exemption as an essential worker to come back in and attend a national security committee and the women’s [safety] summit were the reasons that were submitted.

“This is a balance that we have to strike – it’s not the first time the Prime Minister has sought an exemption. He has obviously undertaken extensive quarantining at The Lodge as well.”

Mr Morrison is subject to a Level 3 stay-at-home order, meaning he can move between the Lodge and Parliament House for essential work. 

He has previously defended taking time out of his schedule during a trip to the UK for the G7 summit to trace his ancestry at a time when most Australians were banned from leaving the country. 

The Prime Minister also apologised for any upset caused when he took a family holiday to Hawaii during the 2019 summer bushfires, a trip he later cut short.

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