Nov 26, 2020









SUBJECTS: Stranded Australians overseas, Dr Kylie-Moore-Gilbert’s release, vaccination rules for flights, trade with China


JULIE OWENS, MEMBER FOR PARRAMATTA: Hi, I’m Julie Owens. I’m the Federal Member for Parramatta. And I’m here today with Anthony Albanese and Vikram, who’s one of our wonderful constituents here in Wentworthville. Look, since the COVID pandemic shut down international flights, my office has been inundated literally with people whose family are stuck overseas. We’ve had over 70 people come to the office, they’re coming every day now, with dreadful stories of families stuck overseas for lengthy periods of time, unable to afford their rent, leases ending, all sorts of reasons why they need to come home and they need to come home now. And in spite of the Government announcing that they’d bring people home by Christmas, it’s just not happening. In fact, I can tell you, not one of the people that we’ve been representing, has actually made it home after that announcement. The situation is dire for so many people. And Vikram is one of them. Vikram’s wife Sudha is overseas. She’s just north of Delhi. She’s been there since August last year. She was due to come home in March, just when the borders closed, and she hasn’t been able to get home since. And this man and his wife are desperate to be together, she needs to be home. So Vikram, would you like to say a few words?


VIRKAM MANUJA, HUSBAND OF STRANDED AUSTRALIAN: See, the thing is, we’ve been together in August. I came back in October. And because she stayed with our son initially for three or four months, because when she reaches a place because of her physical health and mental condition, she needs nearly a month just to settle down. She’s not going there moving around and having fun, she just goes to meet families and that’s it. After that four months with her son, and enjoying the company of her granddaughter, she moved to her brother’s place because it becomes extremely cold in winter. So she came there in December. And then in March, she was unable to come back. And, and even this flight was delayed booking because she needs absolute confirmed wheelchair. And that was available only on 27th. Otherwise she would have been here. So since then, she’s just stuck. And because of the COVID there, she cannot even organise the domestic help anymore. And she is totally dependent for all the cleaning job at her home and also to be provided food. And who will have to provide food, his brother’s families, and they have their own children and grandchildren. And she feels she is a burden for so long and wants to come back. And but nothing is happening. Even the Australian Government has said the numbers of about 6000 people now, but actual arrival, I just got the figures, only 1100 people are coming. So, if this is happening, how people can come here? If they put such extreme limits on planes, and it becomes so expensive? Just 30 to 50 people in a plane which has capacity of 400. So such restrictions are being imposed. And how can it happen? I just read in Facebook group for people who are stranded, Australians who are stranded. And they said that they had even organised privately chartered flight, but High Commission refused. So, if the machinery is not even listening to their leaders’ directions of permitting so many people, how can it happen? They are making claims, but it’s not happening. And I would like it to be investigated as to what is the real reason? If there is a real reason, I would like to know at least. And I would like my wife who is desperate there and has so many physical and mental health issues to be back here.


OWENS: Thanks Vikram.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much Vikram and for having us in your home. Your local member, Julie Owens, is passionate about representing this community in Western Sydney and for Vikram we can just say that you have absolute support in your campaign to get your wife back here to Australia. Scott Morrison promised that he’d have Australians home before Christmas. Since that promise was made, there’s now more Australians, not less, on the queue waiting to get home. This is yet another example of Scott Morrison being all announcement and no delivery. The fact is that they’re not meeting the quotas that Scott Morrison said would happen. There had never been so many planes sitting idle. And there’s never been so many hotel rooms and other facilities such as that in the Northern Territory available for quarantine. Scott Morrison had an inquiry with Jane Halton making recommendations. Those recommendations were very clear to the Government that they had to exercise responsibility for bringing people home and also greater responsibility for quarantine. Since that recommendation to the Government, now a month ago, the Government hasn’t even responded to it. Julie Owens isn’t the only local member receiving these representations. Every electorate in the country has Australians who are stranded overseas. Real human stories, such as Vikram’s, of wanting to get his wife home. Someone who was booked to come home on March 27, but still, more than six months later, isn’t booked on a plane. There’s no availability for that to happen. It’s now many months since I called upon the Government to use all assets at its disposal, including the RAAF VIP fleet that is available. We know that it can be used for other purposes, but apparently can’t be used to bring Australian citizens home. This is simply not good enough. The Senate will have a committee meeting today that will examine, through officials, exactly why this is occurring. Scott Morrison during this pandemic has been prepared to take credit for anything that goes right, largely done by the states and territories, but has been hands off when it comes to the clear Federal Government responsibility. Now the Federal Government is responsible for bringing Australians home. They’re responsible for quarantine under our Constitution. And there’s a need for them to do much, much better for people like Vikram, his family, and for the something like 36,000 Australians who all have families who are all part of communities who are stranded overseas. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Albo, what’s your response to Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s release from prison?


ALBANESE: Well, this is just wonderful news. Kylie Moore-Gilbert was incarcerated without information being given. It was an outrageous act by Iran. And it is a good thing that Australian foreign affairs officials have been able to achieve this outcome. And I’m sure it’s a great relief. I have a meeting scheduled this afternoon of a group of academics from my electorate coming to see me about this very issue. And the Australian academic circles but also much more broadly. The Australian public have campaigned and have had very strong views in support of Kylie. And this is terrific news. I just hope that as well, her family, my understanding is, have asked for privacy at this time. But I look forward to her landing on Australian shores.


JOURNALIST: What do you think about the length of time it took to actually get her to [inaudible]?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s an outrage that, very clearly, the Iranian Government has used this situation as effectively a hostage situation. Kylie Moore-Gilbert is a respected academic. She has a great deal of expertise and interest over a long period of time in Iran. And she was there studying, not doing anything wrong, reporting, doing what academics do. And this is an outrageous act that she was incarcerated at all. One day would have been too many. But for her to be incarcerated for two years is an outrageous act.


JOURNALIST: What do you make of this idea of forcing people who are coming to Australia to either have the COVID-19 jab or to have to go into hotel quarantine for two weeks?


ALBANESE: Well, vaccines don’t cure the virus – vaccinations do. And that’s why we need to use every measure at our disposal to overcome this. During this period, people have made enormous sacrifice. Victorians came through the second wave with incredible diligence, sacrifice and care for not just their fellow Victorians, but their fellow Australians. They deserve our thanks for that. People have had to curtail some personal freedoms, we all have, during this period of time. Parliament has made in unusual circumstances. And it is reasonable, just as, when you travel, I travelled to South America a few years ago, I had to show my vaccinations in order to enter the country. There’s nothing unusual about that. And I had this discussion personally with Alan Joyce, this week. And I stand with Alan Joyce.


JOURNALIST: OK, so, to be clear you think that people should have to quarantine for two weeks if they don’t get their jab?


ALBANESE: Well, people should, appropriate measures should be put in place to ensure the health of not just individuals, but the people they come into contact with.


JOURNALIST: So it’s not an either or situation? There’s a bit of grey there?


ALBANESE: Well Australians, it’s very clear that we need to make sure that in terms of vaccinations, once it’s available, to put in place measures that keep the community safe. And they need to put the interests of the many ahead of the interests of any individual.


JOURNALIST: How concerned are you by China’s suggestion that $700 billion worth of Australian coal is being held up in ports due to environmental quality?


ALBANESE: Well, this is of real concern. This action by China against Australian imports into China is now spreading. It’s spread through a range of agricultural products. It’s now spread to our resources in terms of coal. And this has an impact on Australia. The Australian Government needs to have a strategy and a plan here. And it is pretty obvious to all when Australian Government ministers can’t pick up the phone to their counterparts overseas, then that’s a real problem for our national interest. Thank you. Thanks for coming.