Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Smith for his question. Australian officials continue to work around the clock—literally—to help Australians overseas to return. This has been particularly challenging in areas where there are travel restrictions and where scheduled commercial flights have abruptly ended. Today I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of those diplomatic and DFAT officials here and overseas.
We're establishing a backbone, if you like, for international travel for Australians by working with both Qantas and Virgin to ensure that they can continue regular flights to four key transport hubs: to London, to Los Angeles, to Hong Kong and to Auckland. This is important for passengers and also important for freight. The government is providing direct support to ensure our two major international airlines can continue these services.
We're also coordinating closely with other governments to identify commercial means that continue to exist for Australians to return. In Cambodia, for example, our embassy is currently finalising negotiations for a special commercial flight from Phnom Penh to Australia. We have had a very good response from Australians registered for this flight. All things going well—and I say that in the context of current events—that flight should occur this weekend. We're talking to Qantas about other special flights to assist Australians who have found themselves in countries that have declared sudden border closures.
I'd like to emphasise that we are working constantly with other governments, cruise companies and airlines and harnessing those key relationships to get the most out of the existing global transport network. We know that many Australians need assistance right now, both overseas and at home, and this approach that the government is taking fits with our broader responsibilities as a government to support Australians.
Again, I thank Senator Smith for the question. The government has already supported and facilitated commercial flights for hundreds of Australians to return home safely, including from Uruguay, from Nepal and from Peru. In the case of Peru and Uruguay, most recently we have supported the travel company Chimu Adventures, through underwriting and indemnity, to ensure that the flights could go ahead. We're supporting a further commercial flight by LATAM from Peru tomorrow for passengers out of Lima, Cusco and Iquitos, and also joining up other Australians who were in more remote parts of Peru in terms of arranging transport to assist them to reach that flight.
We have had a very good outcome in Nepal where our ambassador Peter Budd worked closely with authorities in Kathmandu and Nepal Airlines to facilitate a commercial flight that brought over 260 Australians and New Zealanders into Brisbane last week. I thanked my Nepali counterpart personally on Monday for that effort, which included bringing passengers to Kathmandu from places like Bukhara, Pokhara and Chitwan. (Time expired)
I thank the senator very much for the question in relation to cruise ships. Since the 14th of last month, the government has assisted in more than 6,400 Australians disembarking and returning to Australia from 45 cruise ships across the world with multiple charter and commercial flights. I want to thank the cruise industry and acknowledge their cooperation and their work in that outcome.
To give a few examples, more than 200 Australians arrived from the United States yesterday after disembarking from the Zaandam, the Rotterdam and the Coral Princess cruise ships. More than 260 Australians from the Costa Luminosa and the Costa Victoria arrived in Perth from Italy on 30 March. And today 288 Australians who had been on the Norwegian Jewel have now finished their 14-day quarantine after returning to Australia.
These outcomes have required significant amounts of patient diplomacy from DFAT, and again I thank those officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for managing the highly complex operations. (Time expired)