Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Matters of Urgency
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on helping Aussies in India return, not jailing them, and fixing our quarantine system rather than leaving our fellow Australians stranded.
Here in Australia and around the world, people were disgusted when our government announced the travel ban and then, further, threatened to jail and fine Australian citizens and permanent residents if they dared try and return home from India. India is suffering a terrible humanitarian crisis, with COVID cases continuing to spike. Right now, people need help. Australian citizens and permanent residents in India need help. The Morrison government has abandoned our citizens and residents who are trying to escape and come home from a desperate situation. There are 9½ thousand Australians in India right now who would like to come home. They include 950 vulnerable people and 173 unaccompanied minors, whom the government didn't even know about until there were questions asked in the COVID committee last week.
The government introduced this racist ban—that's what it is—because our hotel quarantine system is not up to scratch. It cannot handle positive cases with a guarantee that COVID will not escape. We've had examples of that. The whole point of quarantine is to be able to handle positive cases. That's the whole point. What's happened over the last 12 months is that the Commonwealth has offloaded onto the states the responsibility it has for quarantine under our laws. It is continuing to refuse to fix a system that is clearly broken, to show the leadership to make sure that we have quarantine facilities around this country that are the best they can possibly be. We do have Howard Springs and that's being expanded, but not quickly enough to deal with the most immediate crisis in India.
People may think that the government is acting, but all it has done is announce three guaranteed flights once the ban ends—and that should end now; those should be leaving to bring people home. The first three flights will bring home only 450 people. There are 950 vulnerable people, let alone the other 9,000 that still need to come home. The government has no time line to bring them home. It can only guarantee that it will get 450 home at the moment with the possibility of another three flights that may get some of the vulnerable home. (Time expired)