Skip to main content

6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker


Subjects: borders

GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General is Christian Porter and he joins me here in the 6PR studio, recently back from Canberra. And there's a whole rigmarole you have to go through, isn't there now, to get in and out as a Federal MP?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yep, there. But you know, the rules are there for everyone, and we obey the rules, so we're through the rigmarole. But you know, it was pretty hard for John Forest and John Curtin to serve in Federal Parliament.

GARETH PARKER: They had to catch the train. You know who it's really hard for? Is Australians who are citizens and who are stranded overseas, and there are tens of thousands of them. And my view is really clear, that they've been abandoned by both the Federal Government and the state governments. This has to be improved. How do you see the situation?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think we need to describe what the situation is first. You're right, there's about 22,000 Australians overseas who want to come home. There's about 2500 on top of that that are sort of categorised as in distress or in a state of need to come home quickly. Today, we've increased the incoming cap from 4000 to 6000. But whether or not you're physically able to cater for that new cap of 6000 at the Commonwealth level means that there has to be somewhere for the incoming passengers to go and quarantine.

GARETH PARKER: So Michael McCormack announced there'd be an extra 500 arrivals per week in Western Australia, which almost doubles the number of arrivals. Have the McGowan Government agreed to that?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I'm not aware whether they have or they haven't. We very much hope they will, because the issue is to get up to that 6000 point which starts to bring these Australians in need home, you've got to have somewhere for them to go. So New South Wales has been doing 365 people a day. So what that means is that whether you're a Tasmanian or a Western Australian, if you've been stranded overseas and you need to come home to your house and to your family, basically you've been able to get home because, in the greatest part, of New South Wales doing an enormous amount of the heavy lifting here. And one of the reasons why as a country we've been successful, more successful than virtually every other place on earth, is that we have shared problems and we shouldn't be getting into this type of mind frame where we just try and shift problems on - that's not my problem - that's your problem.

GARETH PARKER: With respect, Peter Dutton on Sunday on Insiders did exactly that. He said: well, we'd like to lift the cap, but it's the state's responsibility. There's caps there at the behest of the states which I can't accept. It's time for the states and the Federal Government to sit down and work this out. Scale up hotel quarantine if that's what's necessary and get these people home. We're turning- we are literally turning our backs on them as a country and it's terrible.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: We are having those conversations, but the Commonwealth Government is not the level of government that is in charge of regulating hotels. And there are a lot of hotels around Australia that could be used for this purpose and used safely. I mean quarantining people in a hotel, where we've had New South Wales do that 365 people a day, it can be achieved, and it can be scaled up, and it can be done safely. And the human cost of not doing that right is Australians overseas who can't get back in the circumstances of need to their homes and their families. So, I don't disagree with anything that you've said, but those conversations are ongoing. But it is a shared responsibility. And we can bring them to Australia, but we need somewhere for them to go. And look, Christmas Island just isn't a viable option. I mean, you're going to have people flying in from on Arab and Emirates Air into Perth, go out to Christmas Island, 14 days there, then come back, then go out to Booragoon back their homes and families. I mean first of all, Christmas Island, with the permission of the State Government, is now being used for what are in many instances quite dangerous people that we want to get back out of Australia and have deported. That's what is happening at Christmas Island at the moment.

GARETH PARKER: But even if it were completely empty and there was no dangerous person on it, it would be a stupid idea.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I mean logistically it is so much …

GARETH PARKER: It's a stupid idea.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: …safer – it’s actually a safer health option, right, to bring people from the airport to a well quarantined hotel, than to move them from one place to another plane, to a facility in Christmas Island. So, you know…

GARETH PARKER: Well look, the Premier has been on the ABC this morning and he's told the ABC that he knew nothing about the cap being lifted. He's complained to the ABC that he heard about it via a press release, which is not in the spirit of National Cabinet, and he hasn't yet agreed to it. So again - I make the point again, this isn't partisan. I don't care if it's Labor, Liberal, Green, whatever. You've got the Federal and the State who need to work together on this. And clearly, you're incapable of doing it collectively. The political system is failing Australians.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, that's a very cynical view given that Australia is doing better than virtually every country on Earth in its management of this virus. And I'm not saying that everything's been perfect. And the National Cabinet has been a vehicle that has allowed for that type of cooperation, and I'm not saying that cooperation has always been conducted perfectly. But we have a vehicle, and sort of arguments about who heard about things when - as I think you point out, Gareth, people are interested in what are the solutions to get their loved ones who are in distress overseas home. That requires us, the Commonwealth Government, bringing them in. It requires us, the Commonwealth Government, talking to states - not just WA, but other states - to expand in a safe, reasonable, fair way their capacity to hotel quarantine. That's the solution, and I think we'll reach that solution. But we have to make sure that if we can bring 6000 people in that we've got somewhere for them to go - they can't be sitting on the tarmac at Sydney Airport.

GARETH PARKER: The caps, longer term, are they sustainable in the longer term? Because you've got a global airline industry that is really in crisis as a result, not just of government restrictions but a general fall in demand for travel because people are scared about travelling, and fair enough. Australia in our modern world is uniquely, I think, reliant on a strong aviation industry; both domestically and internationally. My fear is that this system of caps will just see airlines withdraw from Australia because it's too difficult and we'll be spending a decade trying to recover the lost ground and the lost connectivity of the global aviation industry because of decisions made by government, because they couldn't get just a little bit more creative to try and facilitate travel rather than just try and think up new ways to restrict it.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, global and domestic aviation industry and you've heard the CEO of Qantas talk about that enormous jeopardy and risk in having the state borders unnecessarily closed for too long. Whether it's an international border or a state border, the question is you can't plan for all eventualities right now, but we have to be looking for ways in which we return cautiously, safely, with all of the health impacts created for something that looks like normal operations. Now that might happen in stages, but I think the reality is, particularly with state borders and the carrier Qantas that served Australia for a very, very long time, that gets us to see our relatives, that makes business appear in Australia, you can't expect airlines to survive without the ability to travel interstate.

GARETH PARKER: There's been a lot of talk about Victoria's failings and New South Wales' relative success. I wonder if the model actually isn't South Australia - for a WA purpose. So South Australia have adopted the hotspot regime. They've never cut off travel to WA, they've never cut off travel to the Northern Territory. They paused travel briefly to Brisbane but they've been since reinstituted it. They're now moving towards reinstituting travelled to the ACT. They've indicated a willingness to try and move forward with New South Wales once lingering concerns about community transmission are under control. Victoria, clearly off the table for now. But is the way that South Australia have tried to stay connected to the rest of the country actually the model that Western Australia should be adopting?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Look Western Australia's been very good at this in its control and containment of the virus. South Australia's been very good. New South Wales, given the circumstances they deal with, how big they are, how multicultural they are, how big the economy is and how connected they are - they have been unbelievably successful in finding the right balance. But of course, I think South Australia is a good model for WA, because the sizes are more relative and commensurate, right? So yes, and that's not a criticism of anything that's been done in WA, but with WA and South Australia and New South Wales and Australia generally, we need to be planning our way out, step by step, back to where we want to be in a way that protects people's health and safety. And just doing things without a measure of how you undo them or keeping up barriers and walls, and lock-down, and containment without having sensible measures and metrics as to when we expect things to get better and improve and try and eke our way back to normal, I think you've got models in New South Wales and South Australia where they are eking their way back to normal successfully and very, very safely.

GARETH PARKER: So do you think that the WA hard border portrays a lack of confidence in the rest of our health response, our testing, our contact tracing?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, with the hard border in WA, I think we need to see what are the measures that would plan our way out of it?

GARETH PARKER: Twenty-eight days of no community transmission in every other Australian state seems to be the measure the Premier is putting on it.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well that, as a measure, is indicative of a hard border staying up for a very, very, very long time, with all of the problems that would be associated with that, including the human cost to people who want to see grandchildren born or people who want to go to their brother's funeral. And those human cases of enormous distress are going to pile up week on week and month on month. So you need to structure a measure, I think, that is able to walk the balance, like South Australia has done with its border with New South Wales. I'm not sure whether that is the right measure. It is a very, very, very conservative measure.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, thank you very much for your time.


GARETH PARKER: Okay, let's chat next week.