27 March 2020

SUBJECTS: Coronavirus crisis and border protection; Sydney airport; Ruby Princess; temporary migrants trapped in Australia.
HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: As we speak, borders around the world are closing to stop the spread of COVID-19, but there are some pretty serious concern about authorities allowing sick travellers into this country without proper screening. There were reports, videos stories online yesterday about chaotic scenes at Sydney Airport with crowds of passengers filing out of the terminals, cheek by jowl. Adding to the chaos, a number of cruise ships remain off the coast of New South Wales and Western Australia with passengers in limbo and State governments barring them from docking. Kristina Keneally is Labor's Shadow Home Affairs Minister. Welcome back to breakfast.
MACDONALD: I want to start with the mayhem scene at Sydney Airport and we've heard from a lot of listeners about similar scenes at other international terminals across Australia. Passengers were filing out of the terminal without maintaining social distancing rules. It wasn't clear, that there was much screening going on, whose responsibilities is this?
KENEALLY: The Federal Government has core responsibilities and one of the most significant of those responsibilities is securing our borders. That's not just an immigration function. It is also a function of keeping Australians safe, and that includes from biosecurity and the threat of a pandemic. Now what we have seen at our seaports and our airports is quite concerning and when we look back on this coronavirus crisis we may well see that what has happened at our seaports and airports is a tipping point. That is, it is the point at which the virus was enabled to take root in the community, and it's also the point at which, quite regrettably, it seems some of the cooperation we've seen thus far between the state and the Commonwealth governments started to break down.
MACDONALD: So, just before we proceed further, can I ask you, though. about this question of responsibility that you say lays the feet of the Commonwealth. In the case of Sydney Airport, where those pretty worrying seem to emerge from yesterday, it was the State Government that immediately responded with changes to the health screening processes that were in place there. And, in fact, as I understand it the staff that had already been deployed there were deployed by the State Government. So, there is a division of power here that is creating some of the confusion, isn't there? That's fair to say.
KENEALLY: What we know from the Sydney Airport situation that emerged online yesterday and those concerning images on social media is that Australian Border Force frontline officers had been raising concerns all along with the Federal Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for biosecurity about what was taking place in our international airport terminals. Had those frontline Australian Border Force staff had been listened to it's possible some of those problems that we saw yesterday would have been sensibly avoided. But, you are correct to point out that State Government stepped in yesterday and, as a former Premier myself, I completely understand and support the steps that have been taken by Gladys Berejiklian here in New South Wales and Premier McGowan in Western Australia. They are going to face as State Premiers the challenge of keeping our health system, our hospital systems, running effectively. When – if – this virus takes hold right across the Australian community, they're the ones who are going to face that challenge and they're the ones stepping in at our borders to ensure that the proper health checks are being done. Hamish…
MACDONALD: What is it, what should the Federal Government be doing to ensure that the right checks are happening, that the right people are getting tested. I mean, is there a national policy that could be implemented right now given the broad community fear about this.
KENEALLY: Of course there is, the Commonwealth has significant powers under their biosecurity laws that were passed with bipartisan support a few years ago to be able to do these sorts of measures. To be able to implement these sorts of steps. It is the Commonwealth's responsibility to secure our borders, and it is the responsibility of the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton and the Commonwealth Government to work cooperatively and to provide clear advice, medical advice and direction to the Australian Border Force, and to their state counterparts.
MACDONALD: What should the be advice be, that that every person returning is tested? What do you actually think should happen at our borders?
KENEALLY: Last week, I participated in a briefing with several of my Labor colleagues in relation to the National Coordination Mechanism the Government had stood up, and I appreciate thank the Government for giving us that briefing. But in that briefing we raised this very concern: that not enough health checks are being done at the borders. There was not a sufficient and clear protocol. That temperature testing was not occurring. That passengers weren't being provided with the appropriate advice. And when it comes to cruise ships, Hamish, we've known now for several weeks that cruise ships presents a particularly significant set of circumstances and a significant risk when it comes to coronavirus, and the fact that the Ruby Princess was allowed to disembark 2,700 passengers and allowed those passengers, those passengers were allowed to spread out across the Australian community. That they now account for some 10 per cent of the cases in New South Wales, as well as a number of cases, in every state and territory, just goes to show that we had not put in place those appropriate testing and quarantine protocols. Let's not forget that when people came back from Wuhan, Australian citizens, or when we had an earlier cruise ship issue, people were put in quarantine. Now, that has not happened here. In fact, it has, we have seen 2,700 people from one ship alone now accounting for a significant spread of coronavirus throughout Australia.
MACDONALD: So whose fault was that, in your view, was that the State Government's fault or was that the Commonwealth Government's fault?
KENEALLY: It's a breakdown of the National Cabinet processes, ultimately border security sits with the Commonwealth Government. A Premier of New South Wales cannot direct the Australian Border Force on what they should and shouldn't do and the biosecurity laws do sit with the Commonwealth Government, but…
MACDONALD: It does seem that the New South Wales Health Minister had some responsibility here and it was ultimately New South Wales that advised the border security teams that they viewed this ship as low-risk.
KENEALLY: That's not entirely clear, who provided what advice -- and as I pointed to, this is what we are seeing happen in real time -- the unfortunate breakdown in cooperation between the Commonwealth and State governments. And, at our borders it is incredibly important we have that cooperation in place. And, as I said, I do support the measures that have been taken by State Premiers now to implement their own health and security checks, above and beyond what the Commonwealth has put in place, because it is their hospital systems and it is their population that is at risk.
MACDONALD: In terms of these cruise ships it's obviously a much broader problem. On the one hand, there's a number of cruise ships waiting to come into Australia with Australians on board as well as foreign nationals. At the same time, there are a lot of Australians stuck in cruise ships in other parts of the world and the Australian Government is trying to seek safe passage for those people back to aircraft. Is it a bit difficult for Australia, on one hand, to be blocking cruise ships from coming in and docking, and at the same time asking other countries to let our people off on their soil to get to two aircraft.
KENEALLY: The contradiction looks it looks like it exists, I understand that, but these things can be done with proper health checks and quarantine measures in place.
MACDONALD: What would that look like?
KENEALLY: Well, Hamish, this morning we can't design an entire system on your radio programme, but it would include being able to use hotel facilities or other facilities that are available to the Government to quarantine people when they come off cruise ships. To be able to do the extensive testing whether it's temperature testing or coronavirus testing for the passengers who we know are at significant risk and then working cooperatively with other countries to transit their passengers home, or indeed to send flights, whether they be Qantas, Virgin or other charter flights to foreign jurisdictions to collect our citizens.
MACDONALD: We've been focusing on Australians, obviously, returning home. Of course, there are 1.6 million people in Australia who are not permanent residents or citizens. Many temporary migrants don't have access to welfare or Medicare. What risk do they pose in terms of the spread of the virus?
KENEALLY: This is a public health challenge and it confronts all people in Australia, whether they are a citizen or not. A virus does not check your visa status before it's conveyed or before a person is infected. And, if we have 1.6 million people who will soon be trapped in Australia, many of them will have been caught here because they lacked the financial resources as borders started to shut down and international flights started to disappear, to be able to get home. Some may be trapped here because they're unable to go through various transit points to get to their home country. And, many of these are in casual work or areas like hospitality where they are losing their jobs just like many hundreds of thousands of Australians are. If these 1.6 million people are not able to access medical care, coronavirus testing or income support, they will be forced to keep working or to keep seeking work. They risk unknowingly spreading the virus in the community. It is in Australia's national security interest or public health interest that, for all people who are in the country during this crisis, citizen or not, be able to access those, those measures. Now, in the Economic Stimulus Package that passed on Monday in the Federal Parliament, Labor worked cooperatively with the Government. We amended that legislation. We gave the Minister for Social Services broad, sweeping discretionary powers time-limited until the end of December to vary the eligibility and payment amounts criteria for social services payments. I encourage the Government, and I urge them to use those quickly. I note they already have for some categories of newly arrived migrants, and for some categories of Australians, including domestic students, but I encourage them to consider the national security and public health interest in ensuring that 1.6 million people, who are living in the country, can access that support.
MACDONALD: Kristina Keneally, thank you very much.
KENEALLY: Thank you