Interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - Channel 9, Today

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subject: Coronavirus travel ban.
19 March 2020

Karl Stefanovic: Well, with the Federal Government now urging all Australians abroad to avoid overseas travel, many already away are struggling to get home with many countries already shutting their borders.

Allison Langdon: Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, joins us now from Penrith in Western Sydney. Minister thank you so much for your time this morning.

Marise Payne: Good morning.

Allison Langdon: I mean, it's a tricky situation this. We’ve heard from Australians who are stuck abroad this morning and they’re- well they’ve been telling us that their flights are being cancelled, they can't get on to consulates or airlines. So what are we doing to get them home?

Marise Payne: It is a very difficult situation. We absolutely acknowledge that. But our decision to raise the level of travel advice to level four – do not travel overseas – was taken to protect the health and safety of Australians. We know that if people are travelling overseas, they're more likely to encounter cases of coronavirus and therefore to be exposed. We know that health systems are very different from the ones that they might experience here in Australia and also under some strain themselves. And we also know that, as you have just said, flights are being disrupted, border restrictions are being imposed, and that makes movement much more difficult.

So, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, through our consular lines, through our posts, we are engaging as much as we possibly can. There is a consular emergency line that can be called both from overseas and within Australia. We are also encouraging our posts, as they are doing regularly, but encouraging them strongly to talk with local authorities and to give us the best information they can about how we can assist Australians.

Allison Langdon: I mean this travel ban level four, I mean it used to be reserved for war-torn countries like in Syria and Iraq and now it's New Zealand – it's the whole world. We have never seen anything like this, have we?

Marise Payne: No, it is unprecedented and for the reasons that I've just spelt out. This is a very, very different set of circumstances that we are dealing with. As a government, our absolute priority is the health and the safety of Australians. The health and safety of Australians here and, indeed, those who would want to travel overseas or who are overseas, we would encourage them to return. So when that's your priority, you have to take unprecedented decisions.

Karl Stefanovic: There are a number of countries recently – and I know this would have weighed on you heavily and also the government – who have closed their borders for the time being. How far away from that are we? An indefinite ban?

Marise Payne: This is not the proposed approach of our government, and that's why we've taken the steps that we've announced in the past few days and also, importantly, the steps that say if an Australian, or a permanent resident, or a visitor comes to our shores from international ports, then they will be required to self-isolate for two weeks. That is part of covering those challenges, those issues that you've referred to, where other countries are choosing to close their borders. We've put in place here steps that our public health officials have recommended, all based on the advice of keeping people isolated, keeping social distance between people - that's imperative in terms of minimising the spread of the coronavirus and, as we have been discussing with the Australian people, flattening this curve.

Karl Stefanovic: So we have people – I know of people who came in yesterday – and the United States is a real problem – they have come in, their temperature wasn't taken, they were given a couple of pamphlets at the airport. They were released into the public, there is nothing definitive to say you have to be- obviously you are saying self-isolate for 14 days, but there's not a lot of policing around for that. How do you patrol that? How do you even control what's coming in even with the 14-day stay at home rule?

Marise Payne: Well, the states and the territories are working closely as part of the National Cabinet to enforce the self-isolation rule. And of course, every Australian who returns, completes a return card that says where they have been, what they have been doing. We are able to work with authorities through Border Force and through state authorities to make sure we know who is being required to self-isolate.

Karl Stefanovic: A lot of people.

Marise Payne: And the states and territories are checking on that. They are following up Australians.

Allison Langdon: But at the end of the day we’re relying on people to do the right thing, aren't we?

Marise Payne: Well, I hope Australians are doing the right thing right across the board – not only in relation to travel and not only in relation to self-isolation or quarantine requirements, but indeed in their social distancing, in all of the behaviours that we're talking about.

I think the Prime Minister said yesterday this requires us to change. It requires us to change the way we work, the way we act. And that is about protecting Australia and Australians and that's something which presents an enormous challenge but it is something that we have to be doing.

Allison Langdon: Yeah. Well Minister, we appreciate your time this morning and understand it's a tough…

Karl Stefanovic: So tough.

Allison Langdon: … job everyone in government is facing at the moment. Thank you.

Karl Stefanovic: Thanks, Foreign Minister.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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