Sep 16, 2020







SUBJECT: Australians stranded overseas.


CRAIG ZONCA, HOST: The Federal Opposition Leader is Anthony Albanese. Good morning to you.




ZONCA: Why do you say the RAAF should be involved?


ALBANESE: Well, they can play a role. It strikes me that the Prime Minister is saying, ‘I can’t do anything about bringing people in to Australia’, which strikes me as being absurd, frankly. If the National Government isn’t in control of our national borders then I don’t know what they are responsible for. They’re also, of course, responsible for quarantine. And with the Prime Minister going to Newcastle yesterday, it strikes me that that’s unusual these days for any of us to be traveling. There are two large jets, but also smaller ones, that are available, and they could supplement. It is beyond belief that Qantas wouldn’t be prepared to also charter aircraft to bring people home. There’s never been more capacity in terms of available aircraft. And there’s never been more capacity in terms of availability of hotels. But we have these people stranded.


LORETTA RYAN, HOST: But isn’t that the real issue? It’s the hotels and it’s the cap on the number of people coming home on the planes and then the lack of spaces in hotel quarantine. And isn’t that the state issue?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s absurd. It’s a federal issue, the Commonwealth. This is a Prime Minister who doesn’t want to take responsibility for anything. The Commonwealth is in charge of quarantine. For example, early on, remember that Darwin was used, or a facility just outside of Darwin. There’s 3,000 spots there. The NT Government have said that they’ll make that available. The Queensland and Western Australian Government have both said they can make more space available with support from the Commonwealth. And what we hear are stories of young mums with a one-year-old told to go and find a homeless shelter to sleep in London. It’s just absurd in 2020 that we can’t resolve this.


ZONCA: Now can I just clarify that? Because the cap of arrivals into Brisbane right now is 500 per week. Sydney is about two and a half thousand. I think Perth is 500 people as well. Who is setting that cap? Is that the state governments or the Federal Government that sets that cap?


ALBANESE: Well, this is the so-called National Cabinet that’s not national and isn’t really a cabinet. But the Commonwealth controls our quarantine. And that has always been the case like it controls our migration.


ZONCA: Because I’ve been of the understanding that the 500 into Brisbane was a cap set by the state government saying, ‘We could handle 500 arrivals per week’.


ALBANESE: It has all been contracted. All of the responsibility has been contracted out, essentially, to the states by the Commonwealth. But Queensland is also saying they could do more if there was support from the Commonwealth.


ZONCA: What sort of support from the Commonwealth?


ALBANESE: Well, in terms of financial support or support in terms of assistance with managing those hotels and managing the quarantine period.


ZONCA: But those arrivals have to pay their own quarantine fees, don’t they?


ALBANESE: That’s correct. That’s correct. But there are also Commonwealth facilities right around the country including the 3,000 that are there in Darwin. When the Commonwealth needs to have people put up, there’s Christmas Island, there’s a range of facilities around the country that can be used. And at the moment, what we have with the so-called National Cabinet is these meetings where the premiers tell each other what they’re doing and then the Commonwealth goes out and complains about it. What I say is, if the Commonwealth is not in charge of our borders and who comes into Australia, then it’s not in charge of anything. It clearly is a Commonwealth responsibility under our Constitution. That’s been the way since 1901.


ZONCA: So, you want to see those detention centre facilities opened up for international arrivals, Australians who want to come back down under, you want to see those detention centre facilities opened up for those people to serve their two-week quarantine period?


ALBANESE: Well, they were already in terms of Darwin. They were already using Christmas Island. They were used early on in this process. And now what, essentially, you’ve had is Scott Morrison really explicitly saying, ‘Well, people should have come home early’. That’s basically what has led to then an inertia from the Commonwealth. But the circumstances in which a range of people have travelled overseas because they’ve had to be there, a range of people couldn’t come back because they were about to give birth or for a range of reasons. There are Aussies stranded, not just in Europe, but in our region as well. 25,000 of them. The fact is that Members of Parliament are saying, certainly it’s the case in my office and it’s the case right around the country, they are saying that the most number of queries that we’re getting at the moment are from families of distraught relatives, who are stranded overseas. And there is no plan.


ZONCA: I understand the problem, Anthony Albanese. But if we talk about the solutions to it, you say bring in the RAAF. If you use some of their planes that might be sitting relatively idle.


ALBANESE: Or even Qantas planes.


ZONCA: That said, the commercial flights that are coming into Australia at the moment, we’re getting reports that they are pretty much near empty because of those passenger caps. So, there are still flights coming in. But they’re near empty. So, does the RAAF need to be involved? Or is it just a case of increasing those passenger cap numbers into places like Brisbane right now and the commercial flights will fit that void?


ALBANESE: All of the above. What we need is a strategy to get these people home. And at the moment, there’s no political will or no leadership being provided by Scott Morrison and the Commonwealth to do that.


ZONCA: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time this morning.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.