ABC Weekend Breakfast – Australians stranded overseas; Easter; increased government spending

Saturday, 11 April 2020

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Let’s bring in our pollie panel now, we’re joined from Sydney by Liberal MP Julian Leeser and Labor MP, Amanda Rishworth, who joins us from Adelaide. Welcome to you both, good to see you. The Government this week announced that Australians in Peru, Argentina and South Africa will be brought home on a series of Qantas flights over the next week, sort of mercy missions people have been calling them. Julian are there discussions to extend this further to other Australians overseas?

JULIAN LEESER, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR BEROWRA: Yes, the Foreign Minister in the release announcing the flights from South Africa, Peru and Argentina, flagged there would be flights from the Philippines and India as well. Australia’s brought home some 280,000 people in recent weeks, including about 6,000 people from cruise ships. I think the important thing to note here is that the Government’s been very clear for several weeks that people should not be travelling and should come home. I think it’s important that we try to get people home as much as we can, but there are real restrictions in some of these countries about travelling through those countries, about getting people out of those countries and that is in some respects delayed bringing people home.

NICHOLSON: What has been the delay with India? Last weekend we spoke to a person who was stranded in India and, given that there is a country-wide lock down there, he said it was even difficult to get food and medicine if people needed it. There has now been a chartered flight out of India that has been privately chartered by some expats and aviation experts. What has been the delay in helping Australians get out of India?

LEESER: I don’t have all the current specific details in relation to India but I know that there are Australians all over India. I think there is something of the order of about 7,000 Australians in India and India has its own rules and its own laws in relation to travelling between the states. India is very used to dealing with pandemics and lock downs in their country and I think they take those matters seriously. Without being able to comment on the specifics and give you up to date details, it is the usual issues around travelling internally in a pandemic which is causing some of the delays there. I know our High Commissioner, Barry O’Farrell, is working very hard to ensure that the High Commission maintains contact with people and that where flights are available, and if they’re available, that people who are residents there have the opportunity to get home.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Amanda, there has been some talk, particularly among disgruntled Australians who are stuck overseas and waiting for these chartered flights that are being arranged by the Government, that some of them have had to pay for chartered flights and some have had to pay for their extended stays in certain Airbnbs or hotels. Do you think these people should be compensated for the extra charges that’s they’ve had to incur?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Every case will be different in terms of expenses. The most important thing is to be reassured that our Government is doing everything they can to get those Australians home. I think those that have just recently arrived home on those flights from South America, I’m sure they are very relieved. Their families are very relieved also. So it is firstly really important that we’re seeing the Government do everything it can to actually get Australians home, but also importantly that cost is not a barrier. It would be awful to think that there would be people out there who, if a flight became available, couldn’t afford to get on that flight. That would be an awful situation.

We need to make sure that cost isn’t a barrier to get home, because as you pointed out, in some of these countries in far flung places, they are running out of medicine, foreigners are being targeted, there is some threat of civil unrest. So it is really important that we get our citizens home safely, as quickly as possible and that cost is not a barrier to those people coming home.

NICHOLSON: Speaking of travel, people are advised this weekend to certainly not travel, even within Australia this Easter long weekend. Are you confident that message is getting through to people?

RISHWORTH: I do think the message is getting through. I was out weeding my garden the other day and saw a lot of people getting the home tasks done around the place. I do think a lot of people are heeding it, but I think the message should be reinforced over and over again that there aren’t exceptions to this, that there are no exceptions to travelling, whether that is interstate or even to regional communities. The health systems just could not cope if there was an outbreak in regional communities.

The message just needs to be reinforced. I think Australians are doing a really good job in these difficult circumstances, but if you’re one of those people that think the rules don’t apply, that is just not the case. The rules apply to everyone.

IBRAHIM: Julian over the last three weeks or so, we have seen the Government give out something close to $200 billion in terms of welfare payments and help to keep businesses afloat and to keep the economy ticking over at a time when everything is shutting down. We’ve seen free child care services, we have seen an increase to the JobSeeker payment, we have seen many more welfare and social policies that are being adopted by a Coalition Government known to be opposed to such policies previously. Do you think these programs will still be in place after the pandemic?

LEESER: In Parliament this week I had the opportunity to say a few words about this. These are extraordinary times. People in the Coalition, myself included, didn’t get elected to increase the size of Government, to increase Government spending or to create a dependency of people on Centrelink, but this is not ordinary times and this is what Governments are for in extraordinary times. To be a safety net, to be a funder of last resort and that’s what we’re doing. It is why the measures that have been devised here are targeted and that they’re temporary. There is no indication that these measures will be going on for all time. They are to deal with a specific and unprecedented set of circumstances that the world is facing and that Australia is facing. I have to say, from hearing from my constituents about the nature of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, people are very pleased with what the Government has done.

NICHOLSON: Amanda your shadow portfolio includes child care. Are there any of these measures that have been put in place in these extraordinary times, as Julian said, that you would like to see continue, perhaps free child care for example?

RISHWORTH: I think we’ve got to see where the world is in six months time, in a years time. The one thing I would caution the Government is not to set any arbitrary time frames of withdrawing support. We don’t know what the world is going to look like, we don’t know where we’re going to be and if the Government sets arbitrary time frames to withdraw this support, we could actually see our economy flounder. What we do know is that after the health crisis has passed, there will still be severe economic issues across our country and indeed across the world.

So what we can’t have is the Government withdrawing this too quickly. We can’t have the Government not really closely calibrating the needs of our community, the support that the economy needs with these important measures. If they do it too quickly, if they do not closely calibrate it, what we could have is prolonged economic downturn, which will not be good.

NICHOLSON: Amanda Rishworth and Julian Leeser, thanks for joining us this morning.

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