Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
COVID-19: International Travel
What a bizarre motion this is! And what a bizarre performance from speakers opposite, for them to come in here and have the audacity to lay the blame at the state government's feet for conditions which are worsening day by day because of their inaction—their inaction in response to reports which they themselves have commissioned!
This motion would have made a lot more sense before 1 January 1901. But in the intervening period a small thing happened: the nation of Australia was formed. I want to refer to a particular document that is relevant to the creation of that nation. It's a document called the Constitution. Those opposite keep referring to this document as a 'technicality'—it's a 'technicality' that certain things are referred to in the Constitution—but in fact it lays the bedrock of how different governments assume responsibilities for different actions within this country.
Let's talk about one section in that document: section 51. I want to quote three words that are referred to specifically—three heads of power: one is 'quarantine'; another is 'immigration' and another is 'emigration'. There's another section of the Constitution, section 109, and what section 109 says is that there are some parts of legislative responsibility for which both the Commonwealth and the states can have joint responsibility, but, where there is a conflict, it's the Commonwealth's legislation and the Commonwealth's actions which take precedence, particularly where the Commonwealth covers the field.
This is an area where, if you went into the street and you said to most people, pre-COVID: 'We are going to be subject to one of the worst pandemics in history and facing the challenge of trying to safely bring back tens of thousands of Australians,' I suspect their initial reaction would not have been that the response should be put down to state governments having to manage this in ad hoc arrangements through a whole range of inner city hotels. They would have said: 'I would much prefer, and expect, this to be dealt with through a national response,' and that is indeed what we see recommended in the Halton report. Section 109 specifically says that if the Commonwealth had stepped in its response would have taken precedence over whatever the states had done. If we had have had national leadership, it would have taken precedence and would have been given effect to. But, instead, because the Commonwealth rather than filling the field had left the field before the game even started, we've had to have states do all the heavy lifting. Then this crowd comes in, and all they can do in response to the states having done the best that they could is to criticise them. In fact, what the Commonwealth should have done first is manage all the various risks in an appropriate and coordinated way in relation to the many thousands of Australians who had to come home. These risks included the wellbeing of the people coming back and the fact that they were going to have to go through quarantine. Their physical and mental health wellbeing were risks which should have been managed in a nationally coordinated way.
Then, of course, there was the risk to the broader community, which, again, should have been coordinated in a national manner. Instead, what we had from those opposite was to push all the responsibility onto the states and then for the Prime Minister to blithely make promises he didn't keep and probably never intended to keep—that 'all Australians would be home by Christmas', something which he hoped the news caravan would move on from. He got nowhere close to that; tens of thousands of Australians are still overseas, many of whom live in my electorate—many of whom would like to be living in my electorate!—but are stuck overseas—