Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
COVID-19: International Travel
This motion is an absolutely unmitigated and unqualified absurdity. It attempts to blame the states, particularly the Labor states, for a responsibility that lies squarely with the federal government: responsibility for quarantine. Section 51 of part V of the Australian Constitution enshrines this responsibility, making the Morrison government exclusively responsible for quarantine. This motion criticises the states for not doing enough, and it is the federal government that is not doing enough. The Morrison government should be taking a leadership role, creating overarching quarantine arrangements—their own review recommends this—and supporting the states, rather than coming to this House and placing blame. Thousands of Australians have spent far too long stranded overseas because this government is not doing its job during a deadly pandemic. On 18 September the Prime Minister said he understood the problem. On 18 September the Prime Minister promised to fix it. But there are still Australians overseas, crashing on couches, extremely financially stressed, and people who need medical care who have lost thousands of dollars in cancelled flights.
I've heard many tragic personal stories from constituents of my electorate who are stuck overseas. Those who have made it back have made it back because the state government has acted when the federal government has not. A humanitarian worker from Anglesea, on the Great Ocean Road, spent the past year selflessly giving of himself to limit the destructive impact of COVID-19 in Africa. Ian Dawes had been stuck in the Middle East with no return date. He and his wife were growing increasingly anxious as their visa expiry date neared. Ian was in South Sudan and Iraq doing humanitarian work before becoming blocked from returning home from Duhok. Ian asked my office a very sensible question: 'A major concern is that, if I cannot go home, where am I expected to travel after Iraq? Why does the government assume other countries would allow me entry when my own country won't?' Ian is just one of many, many constituents that have called, emailed, written and Zoomed my office to seek support where this government has failed in its duty. Ian is home now because he was quarantined by the state government in Adelaide, no thanks the federal government.
Labor has a suggestion: the federal government must step up and do all it can to safely get Australians home. There are several different models of air mobility craft in the Royal Air Force. There is a built-for-purpose COVID field hospital only eight kilometres from here in the ACT that the territory government constructed in 37 days. There are spacious and sweeping areas with no standing population across this great country. The task is challenging, to be sure, but it is the federal government's job. If the Morrison government wanted to solve this problem, they would have already solved it, but they don't want to. The priority of the government is playing politics and blaming others instead of helping those who need it. So let's not play politics. Let's put the safety, the health of people and the return of citizens from overseas first. Let's see this leadership from our federal government. It is their job.