Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Matters of Urgency

COVID-19: Quarantine

4:02 pm

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

At the request of Senator McCarthy, I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

Helping Aussies in India return, not jailing them; and fixing our quarantine system rather than leaving our fellow Australians stranded.

Having an Australian passport used to mean something. It used to mean that your government looked after you when you were in a crisis, when you were stranded, when you were in trouble. It used to mean safety, protection and security. But, as we've seen in recent weeks, with Australians stranded in India it seems to mean that the Morrison government is going to leave you behind. Nine thousand five hundred Aussies in India, 950 of them considered vulnerable, and, tragically, 173 unaccompanied children—all left behind by Scott Morrison.

Last week, in the COVID committee, we heard the moving story of a Sydney parent, Dilin. Dilin told the committee that he and his wife had not seen their young daughter for almost 17 months, despite constant efforts to get her home from India. Dilin said: 'We have not seen our daughter grow. When her grandma says she has grown, I feel sad. We have not been able to see her grow taller. It's time we have lost and we can never get back.' I cannot imagine how difficult it is for this family. How could any parent be separated from their child for that long during their child's young, formative years and not feel that loss deeply? We still don't know when Dilin and his wife will be reunited with their precious child.

I asked DFAT officials in the COVID committee hearings whether they had considered sending a special mercy flight to India specifically to bring home children who were separated from their parents in the middle of this global pandemic, and the officials confirmed that the government had not. Let's be clear: banning Australian citizens from trying to return home from India and threatening them with jail and with fines is unprecedented. It did not have to be this way.

The Morrison government has failed in its responsibility for quarantine. If there had been a national quarantine facility, as Jane Halton recommended to the Prime Minister, more stranded Australians would have been able to get home to safety. These stranded Australians—our fellow citizens, our mates—would already be home if the Prime Minister had just done his job and ensured that the federal government had been responsible for quarantine, something it's been responsible for now for over a hundred years. Instead, he has left these Australians behind, trapped overseas and exposed to the coronavirus.

The Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, said last week that the India travel ban is a direct result of a lack of quarantine facilities. So let's just be clear: Scott Morrison ignored Jane Halton's recommendation to set up national quarantine facilities with surge capacity to get stranded Australians home. If Scott Morrison had taken that advice from his hand-picked expert, Jane Halton—if he had listened one of the three times she briefed him on her report and if he had acted—the Australians in India would already be home. They would not have been left behind by this Prime Minister. Of course we need to follow medical advice. Nobody is suggesting otherwise. Of course we need to keep the virus out of Australia. No-one is suggesting otherwise. But the best way of protecting Australians is through a proper national quarantine system and getting on with the vaccine rollout. Quarantine and vaccination: the two jobs that the federal government, the Morrison government, had during this pandemic, and they are failing at both.

The truth is that our current quarantine arrangements are unable to deal with a surge in demand during a crisis—the exact circumstances that were referred to in the Halton report. Inadequate quarantine facilities mean we are unable to deal with the 40,000 Australians who are still stranded overseas and can't get home to Australia, and this failure sits squarely with the Prime Minister. Quarantine has been a federal responsibility for 120 years. The Prime Minister used to know this. He used to hold the job of Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. He commissioned for himself a big trophy. 'I stopped the boats,' he said. He used to be responsible for the borders. I'll tell you what: he is stopping Australian citizens from getting back to their home country, because he is washing his hands of quarantine. He is ducking responsibility. He failed to act. He shoved it all onto the states. This is the 'I don't hold a hose, mate' attitude of Scott Morrison. 'I don't run quarantine,' he says. 'I'm not responsible for aged care'—except he is. The vaccine rollout: 'Not my fault'. Australians are getting sick and tired of a Prime Minister who fails to take responsibility, who ducks and weaves, who does not act.

Scott Morrison is all about the re-election of Scott Morrison. Everything he does is designed to ensure that he is never responsible for any problem but he's always around to take credit when things go well. When Gladys Berejiklian and Dan Andrews acted during the pandemic, at the height of the pandemic, they saved Australia. Australian citizens responded to the leadership of Dan Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian, but where was Scott Morrison? The Australian people are to be credited for following the advice and leadership of the state premiers and chief ministers. Where was Scott Morrison? All he did was stand around after national cabinet and announce what the premiers had told him they were going to do. That's not leadership.

Scott Morrison is all about Scott Morrison. He is not about the Australian people, and he is not on the side of the Australian people. If Scott Morrison were on Australians' side, he would have rolled out the vaccine; he would have secured enough vaccine deals; he would have ensured we didn't put all our eggs in one basket, the AstraZeneca basket; and he would have implemented a national quarantine system, as his own hand-picked expert, Jane Halton, told him to do. Let's remember that the Prime Minister said, 'We're at the front of the queue, Australia, when it comes to vaccines.' We're nowhere near the front of the queue. We're 100th in the world. We're at the back of the class. This is a Prime Minister who loves an announcement but doesn't pay attention to the details of delivery. This is a Prime Minister who promised we'd have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March. We'll be getting to the end of May soon. We're nowhere near that. He is now promising six million are going to be vaccinated by—I think his deadline is the end of May. We're not going to hit that.

This is a government that always loves an announcement but doesn't pay attention to the delivery. Understand where we're at. The Prime Minister says we're at the front of the queue. We are lagging behind countries like Mongolia, El Salvador and Panama. Mongolia, El Salvador and Panama are doing a better job of vaccinating their citizens than the Morrison government is doing at vaccinating Australians. Scott Morrison announced that we were supposed to have every adult in the country vaccinated by the end of October. It's laughable and it's tragic. The failure is tragic. The people who are paying for it most acutely right now are Australian citizens and permanent residents who are stranded in India. As Senator Matt Canavan said, we shouldn't be jailing our fellow citizens; we should be fixing quarantine to help get these people home. As Senator Paterson said, this is a step too far—threatening to jail our fellow citizens who want to come home in the middle of a tragic humanitarian crisis. More than 22 million people in India have the virus. More than 246,000 people have lost their lives. They have a shortage of oxygen in hospitals. This is a difficult time for India. My heart goes out to our friends in India. The help we give them is right, but we need to get our fellow Australians home. (Time expired)


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