07 December 2020



SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison dodging responsibility for border security and quarantine; Scott Morrison’s broken promise to tens of thousands of stranded Australians; Media coverage of Scott Morrison “cooking the books” on stranded Australians numbers.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: First of all, just on these two German travellers, I'm not having a go at them. No wrongdoing on their part. New South Wales Police say it was their mistake that they were able to land in Sydney and then get on this domestic flight to Melbourne. So do you take them at face value? They are taking responsibility for this?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Well the New South Wales Government has had border responsibility forced on it by Scott Morrison and quite frankly, Tom, I think it wasn't that long ago, we can remember a time when Scott Morrison accepted he had responsibility for our federal borders, he had responsibility for quarantine. Now he's duck-shoved it all onto the stage and he's very happy to let them take the blame when something goes wrong.
Quite frankly, Tom, borders are a federal responsibility. We have 37,000 stranded Australians. The number of stranded Australians who are vulnerable has doubled in five weeks, from 4000 to 8000. Now, on the 18th of September, Scott Morrison promised he would get stranded Australians home in time for Christmas. He only has days left for people to arrive in Australia and get out of quarantine in time to spend Christmas with their families, it seems, again, Scott Morrison—in love with the headline, making announcements—but not delivering.
And cruelly, quite cruelly, at Christmas time, he is leaving our fellow citizens behind. He's leaving them stranded overseas. Vulnerable. Losing their jobs, losing money, some of them being sent to homeless shelters by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, referred to charities. I mean, this is unAustralian, Tom, and it is extraordinary that Scott Morrison would choose at Christmas to leave our fellow citizens behind.
CONNELL: When you talk about that promise, I mean if you go back to the wording I'm not sure it was quite a promise but he certainly said it, he'd get the Australians back in time for Christmas, but the number of Australians overseas at that point in time was something in the order of mid 20,000's, more than that number have come home since. So the issue actually has been the ballooning queue since then, has it not?
KENEALLY: Well, actually, Tom let's get the numbers and the facts on the record here because this is another thing that our Prime Minister, the marketing genius, likes to do, which is to pretend the facts are different than they are.
When he promised on the 18th of September to get the 26,000 standard Australians, the 26,000 people who were registered with DFAT as stranded and unable to come home, wanting to come home, he said he'd get them home by Christmas. We've only had 14,000 of those people on that list come home.
What we are seeing happen as people come into Australia is people like Tony Abbott and Alexander Downer taking up quarantine spaces. We see things like Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying she wants to increase her international student intake to be a third of her quarantine spaces, we are seeing cricket teams and other groups coming into the country ahead of our standard citizens.
I mean, Scott Morrison, used to be a Prime Minister who took responsibility for the borders. Now Scott Morrison is in such a weakened position, he has outsourced border responsibility to the states, that he no longer determines who comes to this country and the manner in which they come. The state Premiers, particularly Gladys Berejiklian, could tomorrow decide to let their quarantine spaces go to international students.
The Commonwealth has admitted they are not running a system here that prioritises standard Australians, getting seats on planes or getting spots in quarantine. It is a free market system here and if the Commonwealth were responsible for our borders and our quarantine, they would get involved, roll up their sleeves and ensure that the 26,000 people on that list would be home by Christmas.
CONNELL: The Commonwealth does still have control, of course, of who gets in via Home Affairs, but let me just go to one area there. You said, well, cricket teams are getting in ahead of other Australians are you saying: no international sporting teams, the Indian tour, for example, this Summer; the Australian Open next year; that until every single Australian is home, they don't get in, and those events just don't happen?
KENEALLY: No, Tom, actually what I would like to see is the Prime Minister use the report that was given to him by Jane Halton. This is the Prime Minister's own handpicked expert, Jane Halton, who has given him a report on how to safely expand quarantine, including setting up a federally-run surge facility to ensure that the stranded Australians are able to get home ahead of the Northern Hemisphere Winter. Those are Jane Halton's recommendations. She makes a range of other recommendations around risk management, depending on which countries people are coming from, around if people choose to participate they could use a home—home quarantine with a monitoring device—she has made a range of recommendations but, most importantly, she has observed that quarantine can be conducted under federal law, and it's a federal responsibility, and the federal Government should set up a federally run quarantine facility to manage.
CONNELL: What facilities would be appropriate right now? That certainly, you could possibly increase intake there but this isn't an overnight solution, we're not talking about opening up a couple of facilities, and then the job's done, this would still take quite some time. Are you pointing to any particular centres that could be appropriate for quarantine and open---
KENEALLY: Tom. We don't lack for empty hotel rooms, we don't lack for facilities. Jane Halton recommended a number of facilities including Learmonth in WA. We know from Senate Estimates, and from the COVID Committee, that there are empty immigration detention facilities that could be transformed and used for quarantine facilities and that the Government apparently has not even looked at that option.
There is not a lack of space. What there is is a lack of leadership from Scott Morrison to deliver on his promise, his commitment to 37,000 of our fellow citizens, to get them home. To bring them home, and particularly for those he promised would  be here by Christmas.
CONNELL: Okay, and just finally, Labor is also launching on this issue of the reports that there are Australians that are being reclassified on the list. So at the moment there's a big list that DFAT has, and it either says you want to return home or you don't, and would say 2020, 2021, whatever it might be. Do you have any evidence of this being a widespread practice or is this just off reports of a few anecdotes where people have said that's happened?
KENEALLY: Tom, Tom, my office has received so many concerns and complaints from standard Australians who have suddenly discovered they're being taken off the DFAT list. They've gone to check, and they're no longer on there.
CONNELL: How many?
KENEALLY: Tom, we've had, we have had scores of people, I don't have a number in front of me. We've had scores of people.
CONNELL: Isn't that crucial how many we're talking about because there will always be errors from bureaucracy---
CONNELL: Tom, we are talking about--- from bureacracy---
KENEALLY: Tom. Tom, come on, are you saying that this is just a simple error by DFAT. We've have had people who have been questioned by DFAT. We've had people who--- Tom. Are you going to let me answer your question?
CONNELL: I'm just saying it's a big call to say DFAT is systematically taking people off a list, saying they don't want to return home and until we have you know evidence this is widespread that maybe it is happening with bureaucratic errors?
KENEALLY: Tom. Tom. Look at the evidence that was in the media this weekend in the Nine newspapers, the stories from stranded Australians themselves talking about how they're getting these phone calls, how they're confirming they don't want to come off the list and then they go and check and they're no longer on the list. This is a...
This looks like the Prime Minister is cooking the books. A cynical moved by a marketing-focused Prime Minister to make sure that he can stand up in a couple of days’ time and say, well, everyone who wants to come home has come home. Taking people off the list, it is really easy to reduce that list.
And so, I say to the Prime Minister, more transparency, more leadership, more accountability and a clear plan to get these stranded Australians home.
CONNELL: We've got to go there. Thank you for your time, Kristina Keneally.