Topics: COVID-19 situation in India, pause on flights from India, Defence spending, Department of Home Affairs Secretary’s ANZAC Day message
PETER STEFANOVIC: Thousands of Australians, 9000 in fact, in India, are officially stranded after the government paused all incoming flights from the country until at least 15 May. Joining me live now out of Sydney is Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews. Thanks for your time this morning. What is your message to the 9000 Australians who are now stranded in India this morning?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, good morning. And of course, the images that we are seeing of what’s happening in India just shows the devastation that’s being experienced by so many people. Now, there are about 9000 Australians in India and what I would say to them is that as soon as it’s possible for us to look at flights to bring them back to Australia, we will be doing all that we can to make that happen. In the meantime, if they have access to PPE, I would encourage them to be using that and to make sure that they’re doing all the things that we encourage here in Australia – we’re social distancing wherever possible, hand washing, sanitising, those sorts of things. But honestly, our heart goes out to those people and their families.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Flights will resume, as we know, on 15 May, but what is that dependent on?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well initially it will be very dependent on the health advice that we receive. So we’ve made it very clear that the flights will be paused until the middle of May. Then we will review that situation. We will take the health advice as we always have. We’ll look at what the situation is in India. We’ll look at how we can safely reopen and allow people to come back into Australia. But let’s understand the enormity of the situation in India. You know, over 300,000 new cases every day at the moment, thousands of deaths. They are in crisis in India at the moment. As a government, we are doing all that we can to support them. But it is going to take some time for the situation to be brought under control.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Sure. And so in that sense, that date may well be extended?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we’ve made it very clear that the pause is until the 15th of May, we will be reviewing the situation and we will take into account things such as the health advice and the situation in India at that time.
PETER STEFANOVIC: So and then, once those flights resume, how will you decide who gets priority to come back?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we will be looking at the most vulnerable people, those who need to come back to Australia primarily for health reasons, but not only health reasons. Those decisions will be guided by our health professionals. And we will work with the Australian Border Force to make sure that we are bringing home the most vulnerable Australians that are overseas at the moment.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, just onto these comments from Mike Pezzullo, Minister, yesterday. Do you agree that the drums of war are beating?
KAREN ANDREWS: We need to be alert, but we should not be alarmed. We need to prepare. We need to be conscious of the threats in our region and we need to make sure that we are taking appropriate action. I am confident that as a government we are doing that. We have a defence spend that’s predicted to be about $270 billion over the next 10 years. The Prime Minister will be announcing additional support in Darwin today to upgrade some of our facilities there. These are all important steps in making sure that we keep Australians safe and secure. We do need to be prepared, but it is alert, not alarmed.
PETER STEFANOVIC: China’s response to Mike Pezzullo’s comments and no doubt Peter Dutton’s comments as well: ‘Australia is not that strong. It’s not that powerful. If it insists on intervening, it will only cause greater damage to Australia itself’. What are your thoughts on those comments?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, my focus is on protecting Australians and making sure that all Australians are able to enjoy the freedoms that we currently have in this nation. That’s why I’m so supportive of the defence spend. We do need to be prepared. It would be foolhardy of us not to be so.
PETER STEFANOVIC: So you believe that we are, because there’s a lot of commentary around today that says our preparedness isn’t where it should be. And that is why, in fact, more money is being spent on defence at the moment.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I believe that we are prepared at the moment. Are there opportunities for us to improve on that and to increase our capability? Yes, there is, because there are always opportunities for us to increase our capability here in Australia. And that’s part of the work that we are doing with the upgrade of facilities. That is what we should be doing. That is what this government has committed to for many years and what we are committing to in the future. So I am confident that our capability is where it should be at this point in time, but we will always look to make sure that we are as prepared as we possibly can.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Alright. Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, thanks for your time. Talk to you soon.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure.