ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
FRIDAY, 27 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Australians stranded overseas, vaccinations to fly
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Hi, thanks very much for joining me. With a two-week quarantine on arrival, there are only 13 days left for Australians to make it home in time for Christmas lunch with their families. The Prime Minister said he would have Australians home for Christmas. Yet again, an announcement but no delivery because Australians remain stranded.
Yesterday, I was in Wentworthville with Vik waiting to get his wife home, who was booked on a plane way back on March 27. Constituents around Australia are contacting local members with their own personal stories. In one case, in my electorate, I have a Greek family whose daughters have contacted me. What they have is their parents travel overseas back to the country of their birth in Greece every year for our winter period. They traveled overseas and then of course got stranded and can’t get back. Because they haven’t been back to Australia for the requisite period of time, they now have been cut off their Centrelink payments. These are real issues affecting real Australians right now and we have a Government that maintains complacency. We have a Prime Minister who doesn’t accept responsibility for the things that he is in control of, which according to our Constitution include, of course, control of our national borders, but also includes control of quarantine.
The Government asked Jane Halton for a report. Jane Halton gave that report more than a month ago, saying that the Federal Government needs to assume more responsibility for quarantine, and yet, none of that has happened. And in the last few hours, we’ve had an issue raised whereby people have been stranded in San Francisco because of a United Airlines plane that was unable to take off from San Francisco after sitting literally on the tarmac and on the runway for a number of hours. I spoke, via Zoom, to Luke, just about an hour and a half ago. Luke was in a hotel in San Francisco. He travelled from New York to San Francisco on his way back to Australia to renew his visa, but also to spend Christmas with his family. He sat on that plane for a number of hours until the early hours of the morning before they were told that the plane couldn’t take off. All of the 35, around about, Australians who are on that plane were told when they returned to the airport the next day that they wouldn’t be able to get on a plane until January 20 by the United Airlines staff. United Airlines said that they were unable to get any permission to get them on the plane that will leave tonight to come back to Australia, even though there clearly is a lot of space on that plane, the same number of people being booked. Luke was able to be told that they were able to then subsequently get him on a plane sometime next week. But the truth is his quarantine had been organized and booked here. His plane had been booked, he’d gone some of the way from New York to San Francisco. But the uncertainty that was being provided to him stuck in a hotel was causing a great deal of distress for him and his fellow Australians.
As a result of the conversation that I had with Luke, I rang the Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister (I used to hold that position) and said to him that it was nonsensical that this could not be resolved, that there were seats available on tonight’s plane and the quarantine had been organized. And we have in the last 15 minutes received notice from some of the passengers that, indeed, space has been available, made available on that plane, and they’ll be able to come home as a result of the intervention which Labor members have made today. But it shouldn’t take the intervention of the Leader of the Labor Party or Shadow Ministers Kristina Keneally or Penny Wong to get individual Australians home.
Why is it that the Government doesn’t have systems in place to deal with these issues?
It’s not good enough.
We will make available the video of the discussion I had with Luke just an hour and a half ago. We look forward to confirmation coming that it is indeed, it has been possible to arrange for them to get home tonight. That will be a very good outcome. But it’s more than 30,000 Australians who are stranded and this complacent Government, this Government obsessed with making announcements but not delivering outcomes, needs to do much better. Scott Morrison made the commitment to Australians. They deserve for that commitment to be fulfilled.
Happy to get questions.
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a good announcement. But why is it that the Government said very early on that they’d make the facility available but the Commonwealth did nothing to advance that project? The fact is, if we’re going to get Australians home, it needs national leadership. Why is it that on so many issues it is State and Territory Governments that are providing leadership, and the national Government is following? The issue of quarantine and the issue of people returning home is clearly a national Government responsibility. I called many months ago for the RAAF to also be used to bring Australians home. And at the moment, that hasn’t happened at all and the Government has failed in that area to take up what is a practical suggestion that Labor made many months ago.
JOURNALIST: [INAUDIBLE] …vaccine, is it practical?
ALBANESE: Well, there isn’t a vaccine yet. But of course, we need to make sure that when a vaccine does become available, that it becomes available to as many Australians as quickly as possible. That’s the objective here. Vaccines don’t solve this issue and stop the virus, vaccinations do. And that’s why we need to make sure that we maximise the number of people have access to those vaccinations.
JOURNALIST: [INAUDIBLE] …if there is in six months, and there are all these people overseas, how do we get access to them?
ALBANESE: Well, well, the Prime Minister said that Aussies would be home by Christmas, and there won’t be a vaccination before Christmas. So it, it is somewhat confusing that a Government that says Australians will be home by Christmas, is planning to not have them home in six months’ time, when a vaccination might be available. Thank you.