Interview on SBS with Brett Mason

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Return of Australians from overseas.
23 October 2020

Brett Mason: Really great news. Lots of very happy Australians heading home from London. How pleased are you that the Government’s been able to facilitate these support flights?

Simon Birmingham: We're very happy for these 161 Australians who joined the more than nearly 400,000 people who have returned home since the start of the pandemic. This is good news for those individuals who we've been working hard to create more quarantine capacity in Australia with the states and territories, with the opening of the Howard Springs Facility. And by doing that, we've been able to have enough room in Australia for people to return safely. And that's what this flight is achieving.

Brett Mason: In terms of National Cabinet today, you say there has been a discussion between the Prime Minister for several weeks with premiers and chief ministers to open up that capacity. How important is that - is that to happen; that the flight cap needs to increase? States like Queensland, for example, need to help New South Wales, which we know has really been doing the heavy lifting there.

Simon Birmingham: All the states should be doing all that they can within the boundaries of what's safe for them to do. We want to make sure that our quarantine remains the first line of defense in terms of protecting the rest of the Australian community from outbreaks of COVID. And that's why we've worked with the states in being cautious and careful, but equally, trying to get them to increase their capability and capacity.

And prior to the July second wave that saw Melbourne shut down all of its arrivals and restrictions put in place in the rest of the country, we had large numbers coming into Australia and by and large, people were able to find a way back. Not always easily because of the difficulties with global aviation, but the quarantine was not the barrier to people being able to get back.

Since then, the quarantine has become a barrier and we've had to work hard to increase that at a state and territory level with the opening of Howard Springs, with the New Zealand decision that it clears up ultimately thousands of places over the coming months that would otherwise been filled by Kiwis going into Sydney. And we hope that Melbourne will be able to come back on stream at some stage. And as Australia’s traditionally the second largest entry point, that will be a crucial decision as well.

Brett Mason: And just finally, what's your message? We've been doing quite a lot of stories with Australians who aren't in those major hubs. People in Laos, other countries in Africa, for example, that they can't even get to some of those hubs there, space has been shut entirely. What's your message to them? Is help coming to some of those more remote locations with charter flights? And what sort of encouragement can you offer them that the Government is doing what it can to bring them home?

Simon Birmingham: Nearly 400,000 Australians have returned home and directly, the Government is in one way or another assisted close to 30,000 people. Now, we're working as hard as we can to try to get others home, some who are in more remote locations will need to continue to work with our foreign affairs staff and the advice that they would continually give as to what pathways might be available to these individuals.

It's not going to be possible for the Government to run charter flights from every single corner of the globe. But we are prioritising need, we're delivering support to those of the highest need where we have larger numbers of Australians. And of course, what we want to say is that the aviation networks are able to fly into Australia with confidence because there's sufficient quarantine capacity to deal with the demand. And that's what we're working hard with the states and territories on.

Brett Mason: Thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, mate.

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