Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: International Travel
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cash. Coalition senator Matt Canavan has said that the Morrison government's decision to threaten stranded Australians in India with hefty fines and jail time is wrong and, 'We have an obligation to help Australians.' Does the minister agree with Senator Canavan?
I thank Senator Ciccone for his question. Senators in this chamber will be aware that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. As such, decisions are being made by the government, in particular to ensure that Australians are kept safe from the effects of COVID-19. Senator Ciccone, you will also be aware that, as has been stated on many an occasion, the decisions that the Morrison government makes in relation to COVID-19 are based on health advice. On 22 April 2021, you will also be aware, India was designated a high-risk country, by agreement of the national cabinet. You would also have seen that, on 27 April 2021, cabinet's National Security Committee did agree to pause direct passenger flights from India. Senator Ciccone, again as you would be aware, this decision was reinforced by the decision made by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, as he is entitled to do, under section 477(1) of the Biosecurity Act 2015. This decision was made on the basis of health advice.
The Morrison government, the Prime Minister and the minister for health have been very, very clear. Our first priority as a government must be to keep Australians safe, and, in doing that, we will make decisions such as the one that the minister for health has made. But what we have also been very, very clear on is this: the government will continue to review these measures, as we've said, including the resumption of flights—
My first question was also reinforced by fellow Victorian Senator James Paterson, who has said, 'Criminalising Australians returning to their home country is a step too far.' Does the minister agree with Senator Paterson?
Again, I think, colleagues, you would understand that, as members of the coalition government, we are allowed to have our own opinions. Those opinions don't necessarily reflect the position of the government. The government have made it very, very clear: we will continue to make decisions in the best interests of Australians—keeping Australians safe—and those decisions will be made on the basis of health advice.
In terms of our position on India, the Prime Minister has made it very, very clear. The determination made by the minister for health will end on Friday, and, from that point in time, the government intends to continue to repatriate those in India to Australia.
My last question is to the minister. Senator Canavan has also stated:
We should be helping Aussies in India return not jailing them. Let's fix our quarantine system rather than leave our fellow Australians stranded.
That is what Senator Canavan has said. Even members of your own government are calling for the Prime Minister to deliver safe national quarantine to bring Aussies home.
Order. Before I call Senator Cash, there were interjections across the chamber.
Senator McKenzie interjecting—
Senator Wong interjecting—
Senator McKenzie! Senator Wong! I'm going to insist on silence during questions so that I and the minister may hear them. Senator Cash.
Senator Ciccone, you would be aware that the Morrison government's top priority is supporting Australians to return in the midst of what is a global pandemic, but, at the same time, whilst ensuring the safety of the Australian community. We make no excuses—
A point of order on direct relevance: we've had two questions where the minister did not respond to the quote, and we've respected your ruling previously, but this is a question—
An honourable senator interjecting—
The minister has been speaking for 22 seconds. I—as I made the point earlier—struggled to hear all of the question myself, with interjections across the chamber. I'll listen to the minister carefully and I'll call the minister to continue.
And the chamber will be aware that, in March 2020, national cabinet determined that all travellers arriving in Australia will be required to undertake their mandatory, 14-day isolation at a designated facility. Those requirements, as Australians are well aware, were agreed through the national cabinet process, to be implemented under state and territory—
Senator Wong, with respect, I appreciate you restating that part of the question, because that was part of it I didn't hear earlier. I think Senator Cash was speaking to the issue directly. There's a time to debate the merit of answers after question time.
Senator Wong would be aware that hotel quarantine itself has actually been tremendously successful at preventing outbreaks in the broader community, preventing breaches at a rate of 99.9 per cent— (Time expired)