ABC Radio Adelaide Mornings with Ali Clarke & David Bevan - 17/09/2020

17 September 2020

ALI CLARKE, HOST: Yesterday we were talking about arrival caps for trying to get Australians home in this COVID pandemic and by lunchtime State Premier Steven Marshall had announced that the cap on international arrivals would be boosted in this state - so the cap would be going up to 600 people, which was up by 360. Penny Wong is with us. Penny you would have been pleased with this increase in the caps?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well I've got to say it's pretty disappointing isn't it, for so many Australians that it's taken all of this heartache, all of this publicity, all of these bad headlines.

And what we've finally got is now Scott Morrison announcing, but you know what he's announcing something but he's announcing that he's written a letter to the states. He's announcing that he's written a letter that states a couple of months after he announced the caps himself.

But we've still got no plan, and still no offer to help.

I mean effectively, Mr Morrison is actually saying that the states are still in charge of Federal borders and it's up to the state premiers to save stranded Australians.

CLARKE: Is that not the case, Penny Wong? I mean you are Senator for South Australia so looking at what Premier Marshall...

WONG: I'm pleased that Premier Marshall's prepared to lift the cap, but it's really not going to be enough to get the Australians home that we need.

What we need is the Federal Government, Mr Morrison, who has always told us all he's in charge of Australia's borders to take responsibility and put forward a plan to bring Australians home.

CLARKE: Well let's hear from Simon Birmingham. He was on Jules Schiller's show last night talking about this increase in the number of international repatriations:

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, MINISTER FOR TRADE, TOURISM AND INVESTMENT: We've asked today to the states and territories to have a look at how they might increase those numbers and Steven has happily stepped up to the plate. It's all being done of course in conjunction with state health officers under very safe guidelines and protections to make sure there's no repeat of the failure that occurred in Victoria and with the offer of Defence Force assistance where it's necessary, to help states too.

CLARKE: But you're still saying Penny Wong, as the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs that's not enough?

WONG: Yeah, absolutely. I mean we know there's a growing need.

We know the stories of people's families, members of their families who are stranded overseas - and you and David have done a wonderful job in talking about some of the local families, South Australian families who've been affected.

But the hard truth is this, all the Morrison Government has announced - and yet again another announcement - but all they have announced, is a letter to the states to ask them to look after stranded Australians.

Now it's time for the Federal Government - they've got the national cabinet tomorrow - it's time for the Federal Government and Mr Morrison to stop saying it's up to state premiers to save stranded Australians.

He's in charge of Federal borders. He has the responsibility and the capacity to make sure this problem is fixed, and he should do it.

CLARKE: So the Federal Government asked the states, the states have responded so what specifically I mean, I know that you're saying that...

WONG: Well, hang on, have they?

CLARKE: South Australia has responded...

WONG: Yes, Steven Marshall has and you know obviously, Birmo must have responded to your questions of him yesterday morning and got onto his mate Steven.

But the reality is, instead of making sure they have a plan, what happened yesterday was Michael McCormack wrote a letter, which he then put out publicly. And off the back of that letter Mr Morrison, has done a whole heap of media this morning - he should come on your show Ali - and told people we're lifting the caps.

He actually hasn't got agreement with all of the states.

But more importantly, he hasn't told them what he's going to do to help, and what he's going to do to make sure he enables a higher level, a higher number of places in quarantine because that is key to ensuring that we can bring people home.

CLARKE: We have repeatedly asked to have Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the show but we'll certainly put in another call. Now one of the things you were asking for yesterday was for the Prime Minister's VIP jets, the planes the fleet to be put into this. Is that something that you still see as being viable?

WONG: Absolutely. I mean, we know we've got nearly 30,000 people overseas who are stranded. They're the official Government figures.

We've got industry, the airline industry, telling us it's many more than that. They're saying it's about 100,000. So I don't quite understand what the difference is between the official figures and what the airlines are saying.

But, why wouldn't we use the assets that our disposal? Why wouldn't we use the assets at our disposal, if they say are actually able to prevent people from being in the position they are, which is, as you know, multiple cancelled flights from airlines, not getting refunded, run out of money, not able to get home.

CLARKE: As a South Australian Penny Wong though, what do you say to our listeners maybe those that don't want a huge influx of overseas arrivals, people who are scared of the second wave and that risk?

WONG: Oh sure, and look I understand how, we all understand how important quarantine is.

We've given very clear bipartisan support to the measures that governments have put in place to combat the pandemic. We all support ensuring that there is robust quarantine in place.

Our point is that the Federal Government can do something about that. The Federal Government can fix this. And it needs to step up to the plate and fix it, rather than just making more announcements and writing to the states, telling them that they have to fix it

CLARKE: Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs and Senator for South Australia, Penny Wong. Thank you.

WONG: Thank you.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.