Topics: Temporary pause to further easing of international border restrictions.
LEON BYNER: A few minutes ago, I caught up with the Federal Minister for Home Affairs about the people coming into Australia, when will the borders open? Who will we let in? Who won’t we? Do you know how many people were due to start arriving from Wednesday?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we don’t have those details. We actually get those much closer to the arrival, and of course, we made the announcement last night that we would be putting that 14-day pause in place – so we don’t have the details, but we do know that in total there was about 200,000 people who had visas to come in to Australia either as skilled workers or as international students.
LEON BYNER: So, how have they been informed of this?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we put the information out publicly; we issued a statement last night; there’s information on various websites. We rely on that information, plus the airlines advising the passengers that they will be unable to enter Australia. So there’s a number of different things we do to make it as freely available to people as possible – what these changes are. But importantly, the changes we’ve put in place deal with our announcement in respect of international students and skilled workers, amongst categories that were to have been able to enter on 1 December. There are no changes to the previous announcement that we had made. Citizens of Singapore can still continue to come into Australia and, of course Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families can continue to come into Australia.
LEON BYNER: What do you say to the businesses that had been relying on skilled migrant workers, or people who come in on a simple working visa to help them out in the lead-up to Christmas?
KAREN ANDREWS: I absolutely understand how disappointed businesses would be. In particular, they need skilled workers. We know that; that’s why we were moving to open our borders to allow skilled workers in quickly. But they also need their customers to be coming through. We need movements around Australia, but we also need to get to the point where we have more people coming into Australia so that will lead to a boost in our economy. For those businesses that were reliant on people coming in as of 1 December, I absolutely understand how disappointed they are; this is a temporary pause; it is a 14-day temporary pause that – based on the health advice – we needed to do, to make sure we could get information that was necessary about this Omicron variant.
LEON BYNER: There are people on humanitarian visas that were due to come to Australia as part of this deal. What happens to them over the next couple of weeks?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that’s a good question because similar questions apply to everyone else who would have been coming in as well. But what will happen is that this is a 14-day pause, with the plan being that we will be able to be reopen once that 14 days has expired, so 15 December. For those people who were scheduled to come in here, they will need to remain in place; wherever they are now, we advise them to remain where they are. They will still need to go through the process – when we reopen – to make sure that they have a negative PCR test again to be able to come into this country, but at this stage it will be a 14-day delay.
LEON BYNER: Do you expect this measure to be expanded beyond 15 December?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, at this point the health advice was pretty clear to the National Security Committee of Cabinet last night, and that was 14 days would be sufficient to gather the information that was needed to enable us to prepare for the impact of the Omicron variant. We need to know more about, clearly the transmissibility, how this is going to be treated, vaccination, et cetera. But I really would like to reassure people that the Government has actually taken the right step. This is a 14-day pause on our reopening. We are very committed to making sure that those borders are reopened as soon as it’s safe to do so, and we have excellent health professionals as well as a very high vaccination rate here in Australia.
LEON BYNER: Can you reassure people this is not a kneejerk reaction?
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s definitely not a kneejerk reaction. It was a very lengthy meeting last night with the National Security Committee of Cabinet, a lot of discussion about how to best deal with the Omicron variant. There have been previous variants and there will most likely be future variants. We need to be able to manage it; we need to learn to live and work in the COVID environment in which we find ourselves and, in fact, the response this time is different to how it has been in the past. I think people are better prepared now; our health professionals understand largely what they’re dealing with – the COVID virus. This is a different variant, but I think you’re actually seeing the development of the responses here in Australia to the issues that these COVID variants can throw at us.
LEON BYNER: We’re hearing a May election. Are you prepared?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m prepared to go now, but the election is clearly not being called this year. So, yes, we’re absolutely prepared. We will be ready to go. Everything is in place that we need from a local electorate point of view – all of our candidates, Members and our Senators who are up for re-election are certainly well prepared.
LEON BYNER: Yes. Because you know in March we have an election here, so the last thing I think people want to do is go to the polls twice within a very short period of time.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I think people hate going to the polls – full stop.
LEON BYNER: I think you got that right.
KAREN ANDREWS: I understand their pain.
LEON BYNER: Thanks Karen Andrews; Federal Minister for Home Affairs.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.