Interview with Alan Jones, 2GB Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subject: Evacuating Australians stranded in Peru and the Norwegian Jewel.
20 March 2020

Alan Jones: Right, the Foreign Minister Marise Payne is on the line. Marise, thank you very much for your time. I'm very grateful for that. I don't know how- well I presume you're always fully briefed, but if I could just take the last person to whom I spoke, Mitchell, who in fact is, well [indistinct] stuck there in Peru. He has said - I mean, basically the figures are there's about 243 Australians there - he has said the Peruvian Government is happy to cooperate with other governments who are wanting to bring their nationals home. You are encouraging all of these people, the Prime Minister is encouraging all these people. What can you do to get a plane – they don’t want any cost to the government, they'll pay for a chartered plane - what can you do to get a plane into Peru to get these people on it and get them home?

Marise Payne: Alan, that's very good to hear that Mitchell is able to come to talk to you about these things. We are working closely with the Peruvian Government and with the airlines, and with a number of other businesses that are trying to establish a means to transport people from Peru. This is basically a whole of government approach to transport, through my office and into the Peruvian system itself. As you know, they made their changes literally instantly, with not a great deal of notice. There are two businesses in particular that are looking at what is possible in terms of charters, and we are also talking to our own airlines, to Qantas and to Virgin, but Qantas in particular, about what they may be able to do as well. So, if we are able to get people from various parts of Peru, and they're not all in the capital city, so that is another issue, because domestic movement is quite restricted by the Peruvian Government. But this is happening all over the world, Alan, in multiple locations and it is literally a 24/7 job which we are very focused on.

Alan Jones: Okay, but just repeating here, thank you for that, just repeating, these people are saying two things. I think one: the Peruvian Government apparently is happy to cooperate, and two: they don't want any cost to the taxpayer. If they can charter a flight, they are happy to pay, but their worry is the quarantine window closes on 31 March. And if nothing is done before March 31 which is 11 days away, they’re gone. They’re stuck there for goodness knows how long.

Marise Payne: So we're working on this every day, every day. Very focused - well very aware of the 31 March  window, but we are working on it every day. As I say, there are two efforts underway which we are aware of and supporting in any way that we can. And I really appreciate the suggestion that it would not be at a cost to government, although some of these things have to be considered by governments. That is part of our efforts to try to look after Australians who are in various locations internationally, literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them.

Alan Jones: Correct. Now, the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, there are 280 Australians on board that, this may be a little more difficult because they are now sailing to the US mainland. They've been blocked in Fiji, blocked in New Zealand, blocked here in Sydney, blocked back in Fiji again, they were supposed to dock in Honolulu, the port there has been closed. I mean given the strength of the alliance between us and America, surely a quick call from you, particularly to Michael Pence or your equivalent over there, would be able to give some exemption to enable a plane of ours, again at no cost - they're prepared to pay to be chartered - to bring these people home and then go through all the appropriate quarantine requirements.

Marise Payne: Again, we will be definitely working very closely with the US Government to achieve an outcome on the Norwegian Jewel. I understand for a number of civilians on cruises, and again, all over the world, that the number of ports that have closed to cruise vessels is proving very challenging. So we'll be working with the Australian- with the US Government through our post in Los Angeles and through the post in Washington to make sure we can come to an arrangement, whereby we can have these Australians returned home.

Alan Jones: Just one negative that you should be aware of, and he wasn't complaining, Mitchell I mean, they were very, very understanding of the difficulties in all of this, but the Peruvian people did say there hasn't been a lot of help over there. I know the ambassador is talking to people on Twitter, but there hasn't been a lot of support or assistance from quote unquote the Australian Government, that's on the Peruvian issue. But on both of these, therefore, will we be able to talk to you again at the beginning of next week?

Marise Payne: Most definitely. And in terms of what we are able to do, we obviously are limited in the countries in which we work by the rules that are applied. Some posts have had to close temporarily because offices have been shut down in the cities in which they work. But that doesn't mean the diplomats have stopped working. And we do use every tool at our disposal. So we have our emergency consular lines, and perhaps before we finish I might just put those on air for your listeners, our emergency consular lines. We do use social media because it is a platform which is easily accessed by people and it can provide quick information, and then we try to deal group by group, and where necessary, person by] person.

Alan Jones: So you think you can convey a little optimism to these people?

Marise Payne: Well Alan, it's a very, very difficult situation. We will do everything we can to support the two efforts that are underway and to do what we might need to do ourselves.

Alan Jones: Well, thank you for taking the call. I'll just ask you if you don't mind hanging on, and the boys at the office there in Sydney, we'll get the numbers from you and we'll be able to reveal those to our people. Thank you and we'll talk again early next week.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Alan.

Alan Jones: Thank you. Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

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