Thursday, 3 September 2020
COVID-19: International Travel
Like members around Australia, I have been hearing from and trying to assist dozens of people every week who are simply trying to get home from overseas or in some cases hoping to travel in order to be with loved ones who are seriously ill. This global pandemic has turned our world upside down. It has changed a world in which many of us in a country like Australia had previously been able to take national and international travel in our stride with relative ease. That is no longer the case.
In WA, we absolutely understand the need for a strong approach to borders and we will defend that approach, the approach taken by the McGowan government, against the black and yellow menace of Clive Palmer and his Liberal Party boosters over here. Our strong border approach has kept us safe and, to a large degree, it has kept our economy going, which is good for WA and it is vital for Australia as a whole. But, of course, there have been enormous personal impacts and a lot of heartache as a result of people being stranded overseas. With proper border and quarantine arrangements, there should be a workable and fair system to get people home. There are 23,000 Australian citizens currently stuck in other countries. Of that group, 3,450 are considered medically or financially vulnerable. Labor is today calling on the government to do more to address this issue, including through support for charter flights and by taking strong action against some of the terrible price gouging that is going on.
In the early months of the pandemic, I worked to support the family of a young man hospitalised in Africa and, shortly after that, an elderly couple who disembarked a cruise ship in Italy and were stuck there. My office has sought to help Stephen, Christina and their two young children who were in the Philippines when the pandemic took off. They couldn't secure flights. They travelled to Hong Kong and were then stuck for weeks in hotel lockdown as their money began to run out. It was not until the end of June that they made it back to Fremantle.
Australians understand that the circumstances we face require discipline, forbearance and sacrifice. They understand that flights are limited. Our consular services are under strain and our system of hotel quarantine can only work effectively if the stream of people coming through is kept to a manageable level. But we should not underestimate the stress, anxiety and fear that many of our fellow citizens are facing in seeking to come home or to visit a relative overseas who is coming to the end of their life. It certainly doesn't help when it turns out that approvals to travel have been granted to people going off to collect and return to Australia with a yacht, or when a former Prime Minister gets to jet off to the UK in pursuit of a new and lucrative job.
All Australians need to have confidence that there is a system in place that is sensible, transparent, properly resourced and fair, and the government needs to do a lot more to assist stranded and vulnerable citizens. It's not happening at the moment. There are thousands of people who are financially and medically vulnerable. They need assistance and the government should be pulling out all stops to help get them home.