MEDIA – Transcript – ABC Radio Darwin – Drive – The Federal Govt has failed on quarantine, and must stand up Bladin Point immediately
DARWIN – 6 May, 2021
LIZ TREVASKIS, HOST: You would have heard the NT Farmers Association and Hospitality NT suggesting that Bladin Village, which used to be a detention centre that’s about 40 kilometres from Darwin, could be used to help bring in foreign workers for industries including agriculture, hospitality and construction. Those two industry heads also reckon the facility could be used to quarantine international students who wish to study in Australia. Here’s what Paul Burke from the NT Farmers Federation told Matt Brown yesterday:
AUDIO – PAUL BURKE: “Currently Bladin Point’s being utilized by the Defence Force and the gas industry to bring people through. And we think there’s a real opportunity for all industries to come together to utilise that facility, to bring in the workforce that we need. We’re currently in the situation where the first thing that that anyone in business talks to me about – doesn’t matter whether it’s agriculture or hospitality, civil engineering, construction, everyone – it’s about workforce. So we need to get a workforce in. And we think Bladin Point could offer that solution, not just here for Territory businesses, but also more broadly across the entire nation.”
TREVASKIS: Paul Burke there from the NT Farmers Federation. Speaking with Matt Brown on the Country Hour yesterday, the Farmers Federation and the hospitality sector not the first to suggest increasing the NT’s quarantine capacity by opening up Bladin Village beyond what it has been used for. Federal member for Solomon – that is you guys in Darwin and Palmerston – Luke Gosling first raised the possibility in parliament about six months ago, and he’s here to tell us why this arvo. G’day Luke.
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: G’day Liz, how are you?
TREVASKIS: Bladin Village has been used by the Defence Force and workers in the gas industry as a bit of a quarantine facility. That contract ends on July 17. How should the facility be used after that? What’s your vision?
GOSLING: Well, it’s been a great solution out of Bladin Point for the Marines, which has meant that they haven’t taken up beds at Howard Springs, where we’ve wanted to get as many Australian home as we could. The reason I was calling for about six months ago is because I was helping all these Territory families get their loved ones back from overseas. And one of the things that was stopping them from doing that is only a handful of people could get on these planes and the tickets were very expensive. And what was stopping more people coming back is a lack of quarantine facilities.
So that’s why, obviously, the Howard Springs facility has been fantastic nationally, but the Prime Minister has stopped there and hasn’t created any other dedicated quarantine facilities around the country, as his own report told him to do. So, about a year ago, early last year, he asked Professor Jane Houlton to tell him how to get stranded Aussies back home. And she said, “well, you need to stand up Howard Springs, but you need to stand up other facilities, like former detention facilities, like RAAF Learmonth over in WA, stand them up as dedicated quarantine facilities.”
He didn’t do that. All he did is support us to stand up Howard Springs. And as a result, heaps of Australians didn’t get home. As a result, they’re sort of in dire straits overseas in some places. So it was a missed opportunity back then. But what it also led to is a dependence on hotel quarantine. And we’ve seen that that’s where the virus gets out into the community. It’s happening now in Sydney. So unfortunately, I think the Federal Government has dropped the ball in not setting up other facilities. When the Prime Minister was here in Darwin last week, he was asked specifically about Bladin Point. But his answer about whether they would stand that up as a secondary facility was, to be honest, a bit of a word salad. He didn’t really say yes or no or maybe.
What is sure is that we need more dedicated quarantine facility around the country. We’re doing more than our fair share here in the Territory, but obviously we could do more with Bladin Point. Once the Marines have been through, there’s going to be spare beds there, and that’s where I continue to call on the Federal Government to do is to help nationally by setting up an additional capacity out there.
TREVASKIS: what would the capacity be there?
GOSLING: It can take up to 1500, but we might have a situation where we need to, because of housing stress in Darwin, Palmerston, for example, maybe we might not want those extra staff staying in Darwin and Palmerston. It might be better for them to stay out there at Bladin Point in a separate part of the facility. And that’s the beauty of Bladin, is you’ve got Bladin A, B and C. You could use part of it for staff accommodation, and use a part of it for students, potentially, part of it for ag workers. There’s lots of opportunity out there. But one thing, there is out there at Bladin is a hospital, and that is important because we cannot be overloading RDH. To do this, we would need the Federal Government to assist. And it’s past time that they did.
TREVASKIS: You raised this six months ago when talking about repatriating stranded Australians, raised more recently by the agriculture and hospitality sector. Is there a priority for who should come through that quarantine facility if it was stood up?
GOSLING: Well, there’s a tension here, and I would always see what the medical advice was on what should happen there in terms of the risks associated, because we want to protect Territorians. That’s what we want to do first and foremost. But also there’s a real tension here, Liz, because we need to get back to COVID normal. Our industries need workers, our university, CDU and other universities need students who then work in the hospitality sector. I mean, the weather’s incredible. We’re going to have the best dry ever. We haven’t got enough workers. So it could be a really neat fit for industry. But we also obviously want to make sure that we’re getting as many of the stranded Aussies back home. And that’s why I just continue to call on the Prime Minister to just do his job, show some leadership, stand up extra dedicated quarantine facilities around Australia, like the advice that you sought told you to do 12 months ago.
TREVASKIS: How do the facilities at Bladin Point – I haven’t been there — how do they compare to Howard Springs? Because it’s not exactly the same, is it? I’ve looked at photos, they’re sort of shipping containers on top of one another, which is different from Howard Springs. It doesn’t look like they have individual balconies like they get at Howard Springs, which is sort of one of the things that’s helped it be its gold standard. How does it differ?
GOSLING: There’s different parts. As I say, there’s Bladin A, B and C, but certainly the area – I think it was C that was formerly used for refugees as they were being settled. It is double-storey. But the brilliant thing about it is that each room – and they’re really nice rooms – has its own aircon. And we’re finding that with hotel quarantine, part of the problem is the different variants and strains of COVID are now becoming more airborne. And the World Health Organisation has just said that ducted air con is just a no-no, because it is helping to spread COVID.
TREVASKIS: OK, that’s interesting because this was a comment that came up on the Facebook page, someone said Howard Springs is good because of individual air con units, but they were suggesting that Bladin uses the ducted air con system. That’s not the case, they’ve got standalone air cons for each separate room, do they?
GOSLING: The rooms that I saw did. I didn’t go into the place where the Marines are quarantining, so I’m not sure about the set up there. But obviously the Marines have been tested several times before coming over there. Every now and again, there is a quarantine case there that pops up, but they’ve obviously got their own medical people there as well. So it’s been a really good solution for the Marines, but it goes to the fact that we’re going to need federal help no matter who goes in there. We’re going to need federal help to set up the medical facility. And I think that’s what the Government should be doing. After all, the Federal Government is responsible for quarantine.
TREVASKIS: I didn’t know there was a hospital there. What’s the capacity of that hospital?
GOSLING: Oh, it’s huge. I reckon you could have about 50 people in there isolated, and you could plug and play. Like, it’s ready to go. So you could be putting in oxygen, putting in the ICU stuff if you needed to. But obviously that would require outside assistance to set up a medical facility there. But again, we’ve got to keep Territorians safe. That would be necessary so that we don’t overburden RDH or Palmerston Hospital.
TREVASKIS: Minister for Agribusiness Nicole Manison was asked about using this facility, I think particularly for overseas workers at a press conference earlier today. This is some of her response:
AUDIO – NICOLE MANISON: “Our top priority is the facilities that that we manage, which, of course, is Howard Springs and Alice Springs. They are really important gold standard facilities.”
TREVASKIS: So she went on to talk about working with the agriculture sector on workforce issues. But it wasn’t really an endorsement of what you’re outlining, then. Have you talked to the Northern Territory Government about this?
GOSLING: Their responsibility is Howard Springs and they’re doing a fantastic job at it. It is gold standard. That’s why I’m saying the Government, the Federal Government – and I’m going to Canberra on the weekend for the federal budget and budget week. It is their responsibility to get stranded Australians home. We’ve got a facility that they could fund to set up to get stranded Australian home, to get workforce in for industry. And that’s what we continue to call on them to do.
TREVASKIS: Your federal parliamentary colleague, Senator Sam McMahon from the CLP, I know that she made the call for Bladin to be stood up, I was reading an article from back in October. Is this something that you’ll be working on together?
GOSLING: We have been.
GOSLING: Yeah. But she’s standing here in Darwin saying we should stand up, and the Prime Minister’s standing next to her and says a word salad. So we need him to lead. I mean, he’s dropped the ball so many times. And then when it comes to the current challenges faced by stranded Australians getting home, he’s sort of blowing the dog whistle and says, “we can’t we can’t get any more people in”, or “we’re going to throw people in jail”. And then what do we learn this morning, is a plane load of stranded Aussies arrives in from India. Has the world blown up? No. The professional people at Howard Springs will keep doing their job, keep Territorians safe, get Aussies home. And I’m really proud of the job they’re doing.
TREVASKIS: Luke Gosling, federal Member for Solomon, before I let you go, sort of around the same issue, the Federal Government is considering using Howard Springs to only quarantine Indian returned travellers as a way to expedite those people getting out of that country when the travel ban ends. How would that fit in to plans for Bladin Point? Is that something that you would support? Howard Springs only being used for returnees from India?
GOSLING: This is Alex Hawke. Alex Hawke is good at politics. And that’s what this Federal Government does. He says, “OK, how can we wedge the NT Government? How can we wedge Federal Labor? Instead of doing our job in setting up more dedicated quarantine facilities around around Australia? Let’s just put everyone’s focus back on Howard Springs, where we’re getting people back from all around the world.” So we’ll keep doing that. The Federal Government should set up more quarantine facilities to get more Australians home. And look, they should just follow the medical advice. But more than that, they should do their job.
TREVASKIS: And I should just go back to clarify, you’ve said this is something that you’re calling on the Federal Government to do. Would that then fall to the Federal Government to supply a workforce? Because that’s got to be a challenge.
GOSLING: Yeah, so workforce comes into a whole range of – there’s catering, there’s security, and then there’s the medical people. I think the Federal Government needs to fund a health services company to provide the health service there. But that is something that would need to be done. We can’t call on the NT Government for that for obvious reasons. But when it comes to the others, there’s no more JobKeeper anymore. There’s loads of people down south that are losing their jobs. Now, we’ve got jobs up here to bring stranded Australians home, running world class detention facilities. I mean, they’ll come. The dry season, they’ll want to come. They could work here. They could even stay out at Bladin Point where they can have a good time and they could help us bring more stranded Aussies home. So I think it’s a bit of a no brainer. And I just hope that with a combined bipartisan effort, we can convince the Prime Minister this is the right thing to do.
TREVASKIS: All right. Luke Gosling, I’ll see what the audience thinks. Give me a text: 0487 791 057. You can give me a call, see what you think of Luke Gosling’s vision for Bladin Point. Thanks for popping in.
GOSLING: Thank you, Liz.