SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

MEDIA RELEASE

7 April 2020

GOVERNMENT “POLICY” PUTTING STRANDED AUSTRALIANS AT RISK

A blatant refusal to arrange assisted departures for stranded Australians is putting our citizens at risk.

While other countries have been treating the repatriation of their citizens as an emergency, the Australian Government is determined to make people pay upfront for exorbitant tickets home.

The Australian Government has put user-pays ideology ahead of safety – advising Australians stranded in India that “Australian Government policy precludes assisted departures”.

The absurdity of this approach is illustrated by the Australian High Commission in New Delhi sending a survey to stranded Australians asking them how much they can afford to pay to be repatriated.

I am not aware of any other country sending surveys to their citizens asking them to put a price on their safety.

Now is not the time for penny-pinching and hair-splitting. I urge the Australian Government to put the safety of Australians above all other priorities.

Australians in Cambodia, India and the Philippines are desperate for help as the health and security situations in their locations become more precarious.

Government-organised assisted departures – as we saw from Wuhan in February, Cairo in 2011 and Lebanon in 2006 – must be on the table.

Ruling out assisted departures during a global pandemic is untenable. Commercial options simply do not exist and in many cases have not existed for weeks. The Government has seen this coming but has not acted fast enough.

Other countries have moved much faster and charged much less to their citizens to get them to safety. Among many examples:

  • Germany has arranged 170 flights for its citizens – with additional repatriation operations by the European Union;
  • The United Kingdom has partnered with airlines to repatriate its citizens;
  • Canada has organised well over a dozen flights from different locations.

Each country has used different approaches, but all have prioritised safety – rather than cost-recovery.

Meanwhile, just one flight arranged by stranded Australians themselves and later supported by government has repatriated Australians – from South America last week – at a cost of over $20,000 for a family of four.

Thousands of Australians have been trying for weeks to get home, in many cases before the Government upgraded travel warnings – and have already lost enormous sums on flights that have been cancelled.

By refusing to play a more direct role the Government is making this process slower and more complicated – when we know that further delays are putting Australians at risk.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.