One of the more common words being used as the basis for exemptions for travelling during COVID is ''compassionate''.
The prime minister is able to travel home for Fathers' Day on these grounds but elsewhere children remain separated from parents and families are denied travel for funerals and weddings.
So, what do compassionate grounds for travel really mean and who calls the shots?
It's an important issue because at the heart of the matter is not just judgements about pandemic transmission risk but judgements about the deserving and the undeserving.
Governments have used the 'guided by the health experts' argument to avoid accountability for decision-making.
Decisions about travel never were just about managing virus transmission, they always involved judgements about which circumstances and which people were more deserving than others.
Tasmania for example has eight categories of travel exemptions, seven of them about 'essential' travel (mostly about essential workers for the economy) the eighth being "Other persons or classes of persons approved by the Deputy State Controller".
This category includes compassionate grounds. As with most other jurisdictions Tasmania does not specifically define compassionate reasons.
There are four key parts to understanding compassionate reasons for travel.
Firstly the health arguments about transmission risks. Second we need to understand which categories - family matters - we might consider compassionate. Third there are the decisions around which specific cases - such as attending a family funeral - fall into each category. Finally there are the decisions about which cases are the most important.
The first step around the health risks deals with the extent to which travel could increase the risk of transmission and the extent to which that transmission could be controlled. It could well be (and has been) that when risks are seen as too high no travel on compassionate grounds is allowed.
This type of decision-making has very little to do with the meanings of compassionate or essential, but rather the current state of COVID (for example the increase in transmission risk from the Delta strain) and the system capacity to manage (for example numbers of patients in acute care). Generally we accept the views of the experts on this.
The second part is deciding what constitutes the general categories of compassionate, and usually they are related to close family circumstances.
Other categories often include medical or religious circumstances.
Close family is usually defined as a spouse (or partner) and dependent children.
This opens up a can of worms around who is not included (for example parents of adults, grandparents, close friends, cousins etc) and definitions of what is considered 'proof' for categories such as 'partners'.
Having established the scope of the general categories (such as family circumstances) that could be considered as compassionate, a third decision is then required to determine the significance of the case being considered.
Hence we see additional words added like 'compelling' or 'exceptional'.
So for example most people would accept a compelling family category case would be attending a funeral or being present at the end of life for a close family member.
However, it gets immediately murky because not all such cases are approved.
Even murkier is the multitude of other compassionate family cases often not judged as compelling, such as weddings and 'special' birthdays, caring roles or travelling to support a lonely person's mental health.
In the absence of clear criteria governments usually fall back on case examples to give guidance. Some of these compassionate examples nationally include: suffered a bereavement; visiting people living or staying in care homes; ensuring the safety and welfare of a child; serious illness of a close family member; being present at end of life.
Again the key observation here is both the rather eclectic nature of the cases and how vague some of the terms are, such as serious illness and what 'proof' of these circumstances looks like.
At present (leaving aside the health transmission judgement) the other three decision steps are all judgements relying on non-existent legal or 'common sense' understandings.
In the absence of such clarity, the meanings and judgments are constructed and may or may not over time turn out to be consistent or found to be indeed 'commonly understood'.
Essential to the creation of new meanings of common understanding is a broad community conversation about the cases that are built up by either administrative discretion and/or the courts.
But this is not happening yet.
It is not about decisions being right or wrong or good or bad but rather about understanding the reasoning at work and the logics of being included or excluded.
Long-term exclusion in society often starts with a few simple cases of words being redefined behind closed doors.
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