SPEECH – INTERNATIONAL ARRIVAL CAPS, CANBERRA, MONDAY, 22 FEBRUARY 2021

INTERNATIONAL ARRIVAL CAPS
PARLIAMENT HOUSE
CANBERRA

MONDAY, 22 FEBRUARY 2021
 
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Deputy Speaker, I support part of the intent of what the Member for Bowman is attempting to achieve, where his attempt is to advocate for the repatriation of Australian citizens and residents who are stranded overseas.

Like most Australians, I’m pained by the disruption the COVID crisis has brought.

Too many Australians are stuck overseas, looking for a rare – and often expensive – opportunity to come home.

Citizens are stuck.

And our economy is also missing the valuable contributions of skilled visa workers and international students.

There is not a single member of this place who hasn’t heard from a constituent trapped overseas, or from one of their loved ones.

Without a doubt it is an enormously difficult situation.

As I’ve been saying from the start, we need to do more to get greater repatriation for Australians trapped overseas.

But I’d also like to clarify a misapprehension.

The motion moved by the Member for Bowman refers to the “impact of state government international arrival caps”, and “urges state governments to review their caps”.

The problem here is not state governments, Liberal or Labor.

They’ve filled a vacuum deliberately left to them, and are doing the best they can in the circumstances.

The ultimate responsibility for entry and exit into this country – and for quarantine – lies exclusively with the Federal government.

I know this, because I have taken the time to read this book – The Australian Constitution.

It’s a cracking read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to those opposite.

Part 5, section 51 lays it out clearly:

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

* quarantine;

* immigration and emigration

That’s unambiguous, Mr (Deputy) Speaker.

The Commonwealth Government has full responsibility for who may enter and exit the country, and the quarantining of people, animals and goods.

In normal circumstances when you fly into Darwin from Dili, Singapore, or Denpasar, the people checking your passport aren’t NT officials, they’re Commonwealth officials.

State and territory governments have been left to arrange quarantine and international arrival caps because of the political opportunism of those opposite.

The government is shirking its responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean those responsibilities no longer exist.

The Prime Minister needs to stop passing the buck and realise that the buck stops with him. 

But since state and territory governments are left to administer quarantine and arrival caps, let’s congratulate them.

Look at the Northern Territory: In the face of a potentially devastating shortfall of seasonal agricultural labour, the Northern Territory Government has found ways to bring workers here.

We have seen workers from Vanuatu brought in and quarantined at Howard Springs to work the mango harvest last year, in an effort to stop millions of dollars’ worth of fruit rotting on the ground.

Workers from Timor-Leste have been able to quarantine on the farms where they’ll be working.

All of this is underpinned by stringent regulation and policing by the NT Government.  

They also deserve praise for their handling of quarantine, where they’ve set the gold national standard.

Howard Springs is the best quarantine facility in Australia, thanks to its location, its facilities, and its staff.

The use of a large camp, outside a metropolitan area, where people can quarantine in some comfort is one of the main reasons why the Territory hasn’t yet had an outbreak of the virus.

I congratulate the NT Government for its swift responsible action and leadership during this crisis.

Leadership during a crisis is important, Mr (Deputy) Speaker.

Good leadership makes all the difference between surviving a crisis and succumbing to it.

We’ve seen great leadership from state and territory governments.

They’ve had to step up and assume matters they’re not usually responsible for.

The Commonwealth government has not shown leadership.

I know what the judgement of history will be.