Thursday, 3 December 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: International Travel
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. On 18 September the Prime Minister promised that 26,000 stranded Australians registered with his government at that time would be home by Christmas. Can the minister confirm that in the 76 days since the Prime Minister made that promise, only 14,000 people on that list have made it home?
Thank you, Senator Keneally, for the question. The challenges for many Australians overseas are well appreciated by the government. This is a very difficult time, and the impact of the pandemic has not, as it would be easy to say or think, passed. It is in fact a matter which many countries around the world continue to grapple with at the most difficult level now. The health and the safety of Australians abroad and at home has been the government's No. 1 priority in these difficult and unprecedented times.
We are very aware that many Australians face hardship overseas because of the global travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are helping vulnerable Australians by facilitating access to flights to Australia; by providing financial assistance where required, through the hardship program which we announced some months ago; and by continuing to provide professional and responsive consular assistance to those in need. Since the national cabinet meeting on 18 September, where the Prime Minister indicated that, of the 26,000 Australians then overseas, we would endeavour to bring as many of those Australians back to Australia as we could, we have seen 40,800 Australians return from overseas, including more than 16,000 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Of those, over 3,500 were categorised as 'vulnerable'. Since the government advised Australians to return, more than 432,000 Australians have returned to Australia.
I note the minister's response that 16,000 of the 26,000 have come home. Given that the Prime Minister has only got seven days for the 10,000 stranded Australians who were registered with DFAT on 18 September to be with their families on Christmas Day, what hope do those 10,000 stranded Australians have that they will be able to celebrate Christmas with their families in Australia?
Let me just clarify, Senator: I said that, since the national cabinet met on 18 September, over 40,800 have returned from overseas, including more than 16,000 Australians registered with DFAT. That is not necessarily specifically of the 26,200. There will be a component of the 26,200 plus others. I will get the senator that other number.
I know that Senator Keneally and those opposite have been discussing these issues for some time. In fact, I understand Senator Keneally's interview with Mr Fordham this morning referred to this. It is clear that those opposite do understand the process of national caps and the management of the quarantine and the number of arrivals that that restricts us to dealing with in Australia. We are working closely with the states and territories in relation to that, because we know what happens when quarantine goes wrong— (Time expired)
Dave and Kate Jeffries have been stranded with their young son, Mitchell, in Canada since their return flights were cancelled in March. They've had their travel plans disrupted and their flights cancelled multiple times. Will the Prime Minister deliver on his promise to the Jefferies family to have them home by Christmas, or will he leave them behind?
We are doing everything that we are able to do within the flights available, within the quarantine places available and within the caps to bring as many Australians home as we can. Since that meeting on 18 September, 40,800 Australians have returned from overseas. I very much hope that families such as the one that Senator Keneally has referred to are able to do that, and we will continue to provide them with appropriate consular support through this process, because it is a very difficult situation.
We are dealing with, as I have remarked before and as I know others have remarked, a global pandemic, which has impacted our ability to return Australians from overseas. It's impacted by flights; it's impacted by quarantine space. We have opened Howard Springs. We have accommodated 500 returning Australians in Howard Springs as part of that process. (Time expired)