Topics: COVID-19 travel exemptions, COVID-19 situation in India, Department of Home Affairs Secretary’s ANZAC Day message
ALLISON LANGDON: Australians in India may be banned from returning home with a special Cabinet today considering grounding all flights from the COVID ravaged nation. Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews joins us now in the studio. Good morning to you. I mean, those scenes that we’re see from India are so distressing, you’ll be part of this meeting today. Is it time to ban flights from India?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, clearly the situation in India is absolutely devastating. Hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, multiple deaths. I mean, it’s just an awful situation. So, you’re absolutely right. The National Security Committee will be meeting today. That was announced yesterday. That was actually an unprecedented move by the Prime Minister, to actually flag that that committee would be meeting today. There will be a wide range of issues that are discussed. As you would be aware, we have already made changes to flights coming in to Australia. We took immediate action last week to reduce the number of flights coming in from India and I’m sure that there will be a broad range of discussions today about what the future action may need to be.
ALLISON LANGDON: How do you feel about it? What will you be pushing for?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, firstly, I’m going to be listening to the health advice because throughout this pandemic, the Federal Government has been absolutely clear that we will take the advice that the health professionals give to us. So, I think we need to listen to that very clearly. We also need to look at issues such as the humanitarian support that we can provide to India. There’s already been some discussions about ventilators and oxygen and how we might be able to support India. And, of course, there are issues with getting travellers back to Australia and how we can best manage that.
ALLISON LANGDON: And how do you manage that? Because, I mean, obviously a lot of the focus has been on the Australian cricketers who are over there, there are some very big names and their families here in Australia are very worried. You’ve also got more than 8000 trying to get back to Australia. So would there perhaps be a plan where we eventually ban flights, but would you do rescue missions to get some people back? I mean, what exactly is on the table?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there’s a range of options clearly that need to be considered. Our primary responsibility is to keep Australians safe and secure. So that is our overarching responsibility. We do have obligations though to make sure that we can support Australians to come back home.
ALLISON LANGDON: Will we get a decision today on it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, that’s not clear at this point, what will be the outcome, because we have not had the meeting as yet. So, that meeting will kick off in a couple of hours. We will be discussing; we will be looking at what the options are going to be coming out of that. But what all Australians can be assured of is that the Federal Government will do all that it can to make sure that they are safe and secure.
ALLISON LANGDON: Okay. Now, I’m not sure about you but I woke up this morning to the front page of The Australian newspaper. This is another big story this morning. It was a chilling warning from the Home Affairs Secretary, Mike Pezzullo, declaring the drums of war are beating and we need to prepare to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight. What did you make of that? Are we going to war with China?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the Secretary did send his speech through to me, so I did read it clearly in advance. Look, he is very highly regarded, very well respected. He is absolutely at liberty to prepare such a speech, a document, and to have that published. I think the overarching message from government is that we need to be alert but not alarmed and that is going to be the consistent messaging from us.
ALLISON LANGDON: But, I mean, that was seriously inflammatory language that we saw.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it was a very strong opinion piece from the Secretary. As I said –
ALLISON LANGDON: An opinion you share?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m certainly sitting in the ‘let’s be alert but not alarmed’. We’re obviously very conscious, as a government, of what is happening in the Pacific region, in particular, and we will always put Australians first, second and third.
ALLISON LANGDON: Okay, Minister, thank you so much for joining us. It’s a really big day for you. We appreciate it.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure.