Senate debates

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Adjournment

COVID-19: Travel

5:35 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I want to bring to the Morrison government's attention what's in the front of Australian passports. It reads: 'The Australian government provides assistance to Australians in difficulty overseas.' An Australian passport is a powerful tool—well, it used to be until the Morrison government came along. As of this week there are 23,000 stranded Aussies overseas, 23,000 Australians trying to get home in the middle of a global pandemic. In fact, 23,000 people is basically the capacity of 'Shark Park', the home of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's beloved—and adopted—Rugby League team. That's how many Australians are stranded overseas. We learned this week from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that that number has jumped by more than 20 per cent in the last fortnight. Of these stranded Aussies, 3,450 are considered to be medically or financially vulnerable. What has the Morrison government done for these stranded Aussies? Nothing.

These are Australian citizens. These are people who have the right to come back to their country because they are Australians. Tomorrow it will be eight weeks since Scott Morrison rushed to make an announcement on caps for incoming international passengers. In fact, the day he announced the caps, the Prime Minister was asked about Aussies getting home and he said, 'It will be more difficult because there will be a reduction in the available capacity for people coming back to Australia.' The Morrison government knew they were going to be stranding Australians, including Australian families, overseas, so what did they do? Nothing. Did they come up with a plan? No. Did they communicate effectively with Australians overseas? No. Did they provide assurances to friends and families in Australia? No. Two weeks ago the Prime Minister announced in the media that he had asked his senior ministers to come up with ideas to support those Australians stranded overseas as a result of this cap. And what have the senior ministers of the Morrison government done? Nothing.

Mr Morrison is more interested in getting a headline than in developing a plan. It's not as if these 23,000 Australians haven't been trying to get home—they have. It's easy for members of the government to say, 'They should have come home already,' but this government is leaving these Australians behind. International borders have been closed, planes have been grounded, flights have been cancelled. Mr Scott Morrison imposed a cap on arrivals, and now Australians are being price gouged by airlines. Eight weeks after the cap was announced there's been no plan from this government to do its most basic function: look after Australians who are stranded overseas and enable them to come home in the middle of a deadly global pandemic.

One of my Western Australian colleagues pointed out to me that in March this government announced an international freight assistance mechanism. It's great that we're able to support trade, but let's understand what this freight assistance mechanism does: it flies lobsters, prawns and abalone from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. It's great to support trade. How much has the Morrison government spent on this? Three hundred and fifty million dollars. How many chartered flights has the Morrison government sent out for seafood? One thousand, eight hundred flights. That's fantastic if you're into trading seafood, but under the Morrison government nothing's been done for stranded Australians. If you're a lobster you get a ticket on a charter flight, but if you're an Aussie overseas you get stranded, left behind by this Morrison government. They've been left stranded in the UK, in Singapore, in the Philippines, in India and in Lebanon—in Lebanon after a humanitarian disaster, one this government has already acknowledged.

Australians are being told by this government to raid their superannuation or start online fundraisers to get home. Sydney mum Melissa Inkster arrived home this week after being stranded in the Democratic Republic of Congo since March. She ended up having to fundraise $15,000 to get home. My colleagues and I have been flooded with stories of stranded Aussies trying to get help. If you go to removethecap.com, you'll be able to read stories of Australians stranded overseas.

The Morrison government can allow the number of arrivals under international flight caps to go up and stop the price gouging. They can charter flights with Virgin or Qantas planes that are currently sitting in storage or put in place federal quarantine arrangements like they did when they brought people home from Wuhan. It can be done. This is a heartfelt demand for the 23,000 Australians who are separated from their loved ones right now. The Morrison government need to bring these stranded Aussies home. (Time expired)

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