Topics: COVID-19 situation in India, international borders, Biloela family
MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, a very good morning to you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: You’re fairly new to the Home Affairs portfolio. How does the threat of jailing Australians for up to five years sit with you?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, let’s be clear – the action that the Government has had to take is one that is designed to protect all Australians. So I understand the concerns that people have at the moment and quite frankly, the best way to avoid the prospect of any fines, any sanctions, is to not get on a plane and come here in the first instance. Now, this is a temporary pause and the Government is doing all that it can to reopen the borders as soon as we possibly can, to do our best to bring back our vulnerable Australians. So, that’s what our priority is.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. That’s your priority but I’ll ask again, how does it sit with you, personally, that threat of jailing fellow Australians?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that’s a provision of the Biosecurity Act that’s been in place for some time now. Would I like to see those sanctions applied? Clearly not. And the best way for that not to happen, as I’ve just said, is for people not to get on those planes. We have a significant issue that we have to deal with, to protect Australians who are here now to make sure that they aren’t exposed to COVID. As a nation, we have done extraordinarily well and the stats of infections from people who are coming in from India, indicates that what the Government has done to impose some restrictions on travel is exactly the appropriate measure. I understand that people are concerned but these are temporary measures. We will be reviewing them. They’re, quite frankly, they’re being looked at every single day as we look at what options are to support the Indian community here in Australia and also, to do our best for all Australians.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Looked at every single day; so you’re looking at possibly reviewing them every single day?
KAREN ANDREWS: We look at every aspect of this situation every single day.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. So the prospect of these fine and this travel ban being reversed, on a daily review basis?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m looking at a whole range of issues in relation to the Indian situation, as is the whole of Government. So, we’re looking at what we can do to get Australians back as quickly as we can. We’re looking at quarantine arrangements, but our priority is to do all that we can to protect Australians and that is making sure that we have serious restrictions on travellers coming into this country who are likely to be COVID-positive.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And you recognise, as the Cabinet Minister, Minister who signed up on this, the advice from the Chief Health Officer, Paul Kelly, that the worst case scenario of this ban, which has now been put in place and the threat of jails and fines, is death. Michael Slater the former cricketer accused the Prime Minister of having blood on his hands yesterday; the Prime Minister hit back at Michael Slater. But really – and this is the worst case scenario – nobody wants to talk about but India is so bad at the moment; if an Indian Australian dies who wanted to hop on a plane to fly back to Australia in these two weeks, who is that death on?
KAREN ANDREWS: We are doing all that we can to support India as a nation and also Australians who are in India. But it’s a balance of making sure that we are protecting all of the Australians who are here now. We have done so well in making sure that Australians are safe and secure and that’s a big credit to all Australians. What this Government is not going to do is put Australians at risk. We will look to reopen as soon as we can. We are working on that every single day. This is a temporary pause and we will do our best to get those vulnerable Australians home, as quickly as we can.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Minister, as we mentioned, most of the crossbench MPs wrote to the Prime Minister late yesterday, calling on him, calling on the Federal Government, to increase federal quarantine capacity. Why don’t you do that?
KAREN ANDREWS: The response to COVID quite clearly has been an issue for all governments to work together on. Now, the State governments, State and Territory governments made commitments last year about what they would do in relation to quarantine. By and large, quarantine facilities have been working well in hotels. I understand that there are issues in Victoria. We’ve known about that as a nation for some time and I’m sure that the Victorian Government is doing all that it can.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But this is on the Federal Government. The crossbench MPs aren’t talking about Victoria, New South Wales, WA, South Australia. They are calling on the Federal Government, for instance, to increase capacity of Howard Springs to 3000. Will you consider that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, Howard Springs’ capacity has been already increased. It’s going to 2000.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Can it go further?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m prepared to look at that, but with the scale-up of any facility, we’ve got to make sure that we have the resources to be able to manage that properly. As I’ve said previously, we are looking at issues every single day and we will continue to work proactively. But the States and Territories are managing hotel quarantine. I encourage them to keep doing that and we will continue to look at the facilities at Howard Springs.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: In the end, quarantine is a Commonwealth responsibility under the Constitution. You’d agree with that?
KAREN ANDREWS: What I would say to that very clearly is that the States and Territories made some commitments some time ago, and that was in line with the health orders that they were wanting to put in place. It is right and it is appropriate that they take the responsibility for the quarantine systems that they have put in place.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay.
KAREN ANDREWS: The Federal Government has supported with Howard Springs. We have also contributed considerably to getting Australia back up on its feet.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. But in the end, it’s right there in black and white – Section 51, quarantine is a Commonwealth responsibility.
KAREN ANDREWS: The States and Territories gave their commitments last year. They wanted to take that responsibility and I applaud them for doing that. They should continue to manage their responsibilities as well as they possibly can.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Just before we go, the Prime Minister was doing the rounds in Rockhampton yesterday. And during that he was asked to intervene in the case of the Tamil family, who have been detained now for more than three years. They’re currently on Christmas Island. They’re from Biloela, which of course as you would well know as a Queenslander, is not too far from Rocky. But he said a decision on that is up to the relevant ministers. You are one of the relevant ministers; will you step in and return that family to their home and Biloela?
KAREN ANDREWS: The matter is currently before the courts, so there is nothing that I am prepared to say or do at this point in time that would either jeopardise the positions of the Government or of the family concerned. So, at this point, it is a wait and see what the results are through the court systems.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you have any compassion for that couple and their two young daughters?
KAREN ANDREWS: I have compassion for many people, right across Australia and right across the world.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you have compassion for that family? I know the legal process is going, but it’s a question as to who you are, Karen Andrews. Do you have compassion for this family who have been detained for more than three years?
KAREN ANDREWS: I am a very compassionate person by nature and I will never walk away from that. But compassion takes many different forms.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Karen Andrews, we’ll leave it there. Thank you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.