SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES
2GB BREAKFAST WITH BEN FORDHAM
THURSDAY, 3 DECEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Stranded Australians; Jane Halton’s Report to the Prime Minister on Quarantine; Border Controls; Drugs; Shortage of ABF border patrols.
BEN FORDHAM, HOST: Now, there's a little over three weeks until Christmas. And we're told that 37,000 Australians remain stranded overseas. Many of them are no chance of getting home. But there's something about the numbers that don't really make sense because in September, the number of Aussie stranded was 26,000. And then all of a sudden that number has grown by another 11,000. So, why have these people suddenly decided to come home. Scott Morrison told Aussies to return on the 18th of March. Labor Senator Kristina Keneally joins us live on the line this Thursday morning. Senator, good morning.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Good morning, Ben and good morning to your listeners.
FORDHAM: Look, we've spoken a lot of these Aussies who are stranded overseas, but I struggle to understand the sudden increase. It went up 11,000 in just two months.
KENEALLY: Ben, you know, that is a fair enough question and, before I get to it, I just want to thank you for last week, and talking to Kate Jeffries, who is one of those stranded Australians. Because you are right, the numbers don't entirely tell the story. The way that you let Kate tell her story of how she and Dave and their little boy Mitchel have been trying to come up to Canada since March, because the flights keep getting cancelled, that was really important.
But, you know Ben, I suspect that the number of stranded Aussies has been higher than what's on the official DFAT list, and the number that you're referring to there is the official DFAT list. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
And I suspect what is happening is that Australians who have been trying to come home, particularly since the caps on arrivals were put in place by National Cabinet, that number has continued to grow because people are realising they simply can't get back. And, so they figure if they register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, they at least have the chance - a hope - that somehow the federal government will be able to assist them to cut back
FORDHAM: There seem to be some mixed messages though, because the Senate inquiry last week heard it required 1,800 calls and emails to try and fill only 175 seats on a specially organised flight home from the UK. How does that fit the narrative that Aussies can't get home?
KENEALLY: Well Ben, I think it's important for everyone to understand that there is a daily and a weekly cap on arrivals, and that that is then further caped on individual cities. So, it's really hard for people to get a seat on a plane, and a spot in quarantine. And sometimes, as the Senate Committee heard, these flights come up very quickly and so you get told, and we heard evidence from people who got told with kind of five hours’ notice get yourself to London from another part of the UK, or get yourself to Singapore, and you might get a seat on a flight. And, so there's a haphazard, almost last-minute nature to some of these flights.
And that's why I think it's important that our National Cabinet and the, the Commonwealth Government, who are in charge of the borders who are in charge of quarantine, get a better process in place, because when we see the number of vulnerable Australians grow from 4,000 to 8,000, that's because people are losing their jobs, they're losing their houses, they're catching COVID. They're having to go into homeless shelters overseas. They're becoming vulnerable by the length of time that they're spending outside of Australia unable to come back.
FORDHAM: Yeah, there are some who have only joined the queue to return home when they realise how many people were on the waiting list already. They probably need to face the fact they're not going to be home for Christmas.
KENEALLY: Well they I wish we had a queue. I wish there actually was a queue Ben, because then there would be some sense and logic to it. Back in March the advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was stay in place if you have a job and feel like you can do that, but if you want to come home consider coming home.
Only later once, after the caps on arrivals were put in place, did they actually start having a list of people that people could register for. And, you know, I just... my heartbreak for these folks, you know, who are literally just stuck. One of our witnesses said they're not stranded they're actually abandoned.
And, you know, I know it's been tough. I know COVID has been tough on all governments, and I think we have to acknowledge that the border closures has played such an important role in keeping our community safe from COVID, that we haven't seen it ravaged to our country the way other countries have.
But the Prime Minister asked Jane Halton - a respected bureaucrat - to do a review of quarantine. She gave it to him a month ago, she gave clear, safe ways to expand quarantine, to change it. She says our current system of 14 days in a hotel is not sustainable or fit-for-purpose for everyone. And, she really recommended a range of things including the federal quarantine facility, as she put it, 'with surge capacity to get these stranded people home before the northern hemisphere winter hits'.
So, I just hope and pray that whether they're here by Christmas, as the Prime Minister said they would be on the 18th of September, or very shortly after that, our citizens can come home to their country.
FORDHAM: OK. If you're stuck overseas and listening at the moment, I'd love to hear from you. Before we let you go, Kristina Keneally, as a former New South Wales Premier I'm keen to get your thoughts on this idea being strongly considered by the New South Wales Cabinet, that people in possession of the drug ice would be let off with a warning the first time, a fine on the second and third occasion, and only on the fourth offence is the space of twelve months would they face criminal prosecution. Does that send the wrong message?
KENEALLY: Ben, I'm not a health expert and it's been a while since I've been in charge of the New South Wales Police Force, but I really think we need to listen to some experts here. And I'm not yet convinced that what I see on the front page of the Tele is the right way forward. I am highly concerned about the decriminalisation of drugs in countries overseas, and the message it sends to young people, particularly on developing brains, and the use of drugs like marijuana on an adolescent brain. So, I would strongly urge the Cabinet to slow down and listen to some experts.
But I do also want to make a point here – a key component to stopping drugs is border control. And we've got, you know, the WA Police Commissioner criticised the ABF for a 'great shortage' of border controls to stop drugs reaching our shores. In Defence, our Australian Defence Forces have raised concerns, so it's a multi... What my point, I suppose, is there is a... There's got to be a multi-level government solution. It is not one silver bullet here.
FORDHAM: I really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much for jumping on the line.
KENEALLY: Thanks, Ben.