Writing a Letter Won’t Get Stranded Australians Home

16 September 2020

The Morrison Government continues to shirk its responsibilities for Australia’s borders, quarantine, and assisting Australians in jeopardy – as the number of people stranded overseas approaches 30,000.

Today the Deputy Prime Minister announced he has written a letter.

“Let’s be clear: there is no offer from the Morrison Government to do anything, and no agreement with the states and territories to boost quarantine places – only more blame shifting. And there is still no plan to get stranded Australians home,” said Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong.

It has been two months since Scott Morrison imposed a cap on international flight passenger arrivals of just 4,000 a week, without a plan for what happened next.

Since then the offices of Senators and MPs have been overwhelmed with desperate pleas for help from stranded Australians overseas and facing flight cancellations, price gouging and destitution overseas.

“Thursday is Australian Citizenship Day. But, what good is Australian Citizenship if you are being denied entry to your own country by the Prime Minister’s lack of interest,” said Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Senator Kristina Keneally.

“For Michael McCormack to say not every Australian will be able to come home by Christmas is a failure to take responsibility. The Morrison Government needs to stand up and act,” said Catherine King, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development.

Three weeks ago, Labor laid out its plan to bring stranded Australians home, including urgent action to stop airlines price gouging, increasing quarantine capacity and putting all options on the table to repatriate stranded Australians.

Scott Morrison has had months to consider using a range of options at his disposal, including chartering flights, using his own RAAF VIP fleet, and supporting the states with resources and people to boost quarantine capacity.

The Western Australian and Northern Territory Governments have said they can help increase the international arrivals cap if Scott Morrison helps to run quarantine facilities.

The Morrison Government has already proven that it can run quarantine facilities when it used sections 113-116 of the Biosecurity Act to enable quarantine zones to be designated in hotels, and the Howard Springs site in February for returning Wuhan and Diamond Princess evacuees.

The Biosecurity Act could empower the Australian Border Force (or other Commonwealth bodies) to operate or enforce federal quarantine, and it is also possible for Australian Public Service employees to have their duties changed by their agency head in accordance with section 25 of the Public Service Act.

While it is clear that Border Force officers and Public Servants would require training to operate quarantine facilities under medical supervision, Scott Morrison has had two months to start this training, and has seemingly done nothing.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.