The daughter of a Queensland man whose funeral was at the centre of a federal-state brawl about border closures has accused Scott Morrison of using the case to “advance his political agenda”.
Alexandra Prendergast said in an open letter to the prime minister that his actions were “absolutely disrespectful” to families who had not been granted permission to attend relatives’ funerals.
It was “heartbreaking” that the prime minister had “presented himself as being empathetic and understanding” but had not considered the ramifications of his actions for family members, Prendergast said.
Bernard Prendergast’s funeral became the latest battleground in the fight between the federal government and the Queensland premier after it was revealed that one of his daughters, Sarah Caisip, was denied an exemption from hotel quarantine to attend the ceremony.
Caisip lives in the Australian Capital Territory, which has not had a case of Covid-19 for more than two months.
After she spoke to the media about her situation and wrote to the prime minister, Morrison attempted to negotiate an exemption with Annastacia Palaszczuk.
On Thursday, in the Queensland parliament, Palaszczuk said Morrison was attempting to “bully” and “intimidate” her into relaxing border controls after she was asked about the case by the leader of the opposition, Deb Frecklington.
Later the same day, with Prendergast’s funeral scheduled for that afternoon, Morrison went on Sky News and Sydney radio station 2GB pleading for the 26-year-old to be allowed to attend.
Alexandra Prendergast, Bernard’s eldest child, accused the prime minister in her letter of attracting media to her father’s funeral and invading the family’s privacy.
“Mr Morrison, I am extremely disappointed that you have used my family to try and advance your political agenda … Your announcement of my father’s funeral on [radio] prompted a media circus outside the crematorium at which the service was held,” she said.
“I am devastated that the final memories of my father have been marred by the media you have used to prosecute your political agenda.”
Prendergast told Guardian Australia she had learned of Morrison’s involvement only after being confronted by cameras outside the funeral parlour. She said some family were aware of his intervention but she felt she should have been contacted directly.
“I’m his daughter – if anyone should have been told it should have been me. I would never have allowed photos of myself at my father’s funeral to be used by anyone.”
She said she felt Morrison had spoken about the case only to intensify pressure on Palaszczuk.
“He might have considered the implications for the media and the way that he can generate a story, but he didn’t consider the personal implications for the family members attending the funeral,” she said. “That’s really heartbreaking because he has presented himself as being empathetic and understanding, but he has not considered the other ramifications.
“It’s made the grieving process much more complicated. We are not only going through our own personal grief, but it’s also very public. There are constant reminders in the news, and photos in the paper.”
A spokesman for the prime minister said Morrison had spoken publicly about Caisip’s case only after the Queensland premier did so.
“The prime minister is very sorry for the family’s loss. His intervention was intended to be made only directly to the premier as he has done on dozens of other cases. It is unfortunate that the premier chose to refer to her conversation with the prime minister in the parliament.
“The prime minister’s preference was that this matter be handled discreetly. The prime minister wishes Alexandra and her family every comfort and condolence at this very difficult time.”
Prendergast’s grandmother also died suddenly, the day before her father. Her sister and aunt, who are in Melbourne, were barred from entering Queensland to attend either funeral. She was upset with the strict border closures, but said the problem required systemic change rather than the prime minister drawing attention to the one family.
“The inconsistencies within my own family’s experience is extremely upsetting, but your actions are also absolutely disrespectful to all those other families who have not been granted permission to farewell their loved ones,” she wrote.
Caisip was eventually allowed to attend a private viewing of her father’s body after the funeral, but had to wear full PPE and could not interact with family. She was then returned to hotel quarantine.
Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, told reporters last week Caisip was denied an exemption because “the last thing I would want to happen is to have an outbreak at a funeral, and by definition there are always older people attending funerals”.
Asked why the Australian Capital Territory was still considered a hotspot given there had been no active cases in the territory for 60 days, Young said the ACT was “in the middle of New South Wales”.
She pointed to a cluster of cases in Batemans Bay more than a month ago and said “a lot of Canberra residents have weekend residences they go to in Batemans Bay”.
“Unfortunately, for people who live in Canberra, they are deemed as being in a hotspot and need to be managed as such,” Young said.
Morrison said he was “mystified” by the decision.
“Today just hurt,” he said on Thursday. “We have got to find a better way to deal with the heart here.”