Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
COVID-19: International Travel
I support part of the intent of what the member for Bowman is attempting to achieve here in advocating for the repatriation of Australian citizens and residents who are stranded overseas. I want to acknowledge all those from both sides who have acknowledged the role that the Northern Territory has played during the pandemic to get Australians home.
Like most Australians, I know that this crisis has caused a lot of disruption to Australian families. Too many Australians are still stuck overseas looking for that rare but often very expensive opportunity to get home. Our Australian citizens are stuck, still. I thought they were meant to be getting home by Christmas, but they're still stuck. Our economy is also missing people, whether they be skilled visa workers or international students. There's a not a single member of this place that hasn't heard from a constituent that's trapped overseas or from their loved ones that are worried sick. So obviously it's a very difficult situation.
I've been encouraging the federal government to increase the capacity at Howard Springs in Darwin from the start. This was months and months ago. It was very slow to occur. Some expansion has happened now, which is a good thing, but the member for Bowman refers to the impact of state governments in international arrival caps and urges state governments to review their caps. But I think, if I can be bipartisan for a second, the problem here is not state governments, Liberal or Labor. They've simply filled a vacuum that's been made by a lack of leadership by those opposite, by the federal government. The ultimate responsibility for entry and exit into this country and for quarantine lies exclusively with the federal government. I know this because I've taken the time to read a book. The book is called the Australian Constitution. It's a cracking read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to those opposite. If I can—not to use it as a prop—quote from part 5 section 51, 'legislative powers of the parliament', it includes 'quarantine' as a federal responsibility. It goes further in subsection (xxvii) to include 'immigration and emigration'. Immigration and emigration are a federal responsibility. That's from the Australian Constitution right there. It's pretty unambiguous. My message is simply this: the Commonwealth government has full responsibility for who may enter or exit our nation. The quarantining of people is entirely an issue for the federal government, obviously to work with the states and territories. In normal circumstances, when you fly into Darwin, whether it be from Dili, Singapore or Denpasar, it is Commonwealth public servants who are there monitoring the comings and goings of our nation, obviously. Quarantine is also done by federal public servants, because, as I just said, the constitution sets out that it is a federal responsibility.
State and territory governments have been left to arrange quarantine and international arrival caps just because of the political opportunism from the Prime Minister and from those opposite. They saw an opportunity to have fights with the states and territories when they wanted to. Thankfully, in the case of the Northern Territory, there was a higher purpose—that of getting as many people back to Australia as possible. But I am really disappointed that the federal government has shirked its responsibilities. I am glad it is working constructively with the NT government. I just want to say about the NT government that they have done an excellent job, working cooperatively with the federal government and maximising the numbers of Australians that we could get back. There's more that they could do in Darwin; there are more facilities there that could be used to get more Australians back.
So leadership in a crisis is important, and good leadership makes all the difference between either surviving a crisis or succumbing to it. I think, overall, we've seen pretty good leadership from state and territory governments, but they've had to step up and assume matters for which they are not normally responsible. The Commonwealth government, unfortunately, has not shown leadership. I know that that will be the judgement of history: that the federal government failed to step up. And I encourage them to do so, because there are still more Aussies stranded overseas.