Interview with Larry Emdur & Kylie Gillies

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Coronavirus; Cruise Ships; Australian Travellers Overseas.
16 April 2020

Kylie Gillies: For more, we’re joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne. Welcome, Minister.

Marise Payne: Good morning.

Kylie Gillies: When borders started to shut around the world, there were 51 cruise ships carrying 6400 Australian passengers around the world. We know some of these ships were contaminated with COVID-19. Were you prepared for just what it was going to take to get all these people home?

Marise Payne: It has been an extraordinary process, Kylie, to be honest. It’s been reducing that number of ships to today to zero and zero Australians on cruise ships overseas which is an enormous relief not just to us in trying to support them, but I know to friends and to family and to those passengers themselves. Country by country, vessel by vessel, we have had to negotiate access for berthing for ships; we have had to work out disembarkation procedures working closely with the cruise lines to ensure that there were flights available for those Australians and every single country through this process has had different rules and different requirements. So it has required a great deal of diplomatic and consular work. The occasional phone call from me to a Foreign Minister counterpart in a number of countries, just to make sure that we were able to facilitate this procedure. But I am very relieved in being able to say that it is now zero ships and zero Australian passengers.

Larry Emdur: We can imagine the incredible work behind the scenes with all of that. Now, here in Australia the Ruby Princess cruise ship has been responsible for 19 deaths and we know border control is not your area, nor is health, but in your opinion, like most of us, do you believe that this is the biggest disaster for Australia throughout the pandemic?

Marise Payne: I think it is an enormous challenge and of course there are now two inquiries underway and I wouldn't want to make any comment that prejudiced either of those inquiries, particularly a police investigation. But we said to Australians on the ninth of March, reconsider your need to take cruise trips. We were very clear about our travel advice and so we have been tracking this over some period of time and very, very conscious, particularly in the aftermath of the Diamond Princess and the challenge that presented to Japan and to the many countries who had passengers on board that ship, this was extremely important to monitor and to be very careful about.

That said, as I mentioned earlier, I'm very, very pleased that we now have no vessels at sea with Australian passengers.

Kylie Gillies: But there are still some Australians stranded in India. What's the situation for those people, Minister?

Marise Payne: There are Australians in a number of countries India is one, the Philippines is another, where we are working very closely with local authorities and with Australians who are supporting a charter process. One charter run by Lion Air arrived in Melbourne just a couple of days ago with 444 Australians on board. That is underway. We are also working with Qantas in relation to flights in both of those countries as well.

There are enormous logistical challenges inside India, inside the Philippines for that matter where states have different rules; cities themselves have different rules about people's capacity to move within those countries. We are negotiating those. Every single Australian who wants to board such a charter must make an application to the Indian Government. My post in New Delhi is facilitating that application process; that will number in the many, many hundreds.

So we’re very focused on this and working right across our Consuls-General and our High Commissioner and his team in India to support those Australians. That said, there are also a large number of Australians at any one time in a country like India who are long term residents of India, notwithstanding they’re Australian citizens. And I know many of those have indicated to us although they are registered with the High Commission, they do intend to stay in India during this period.

Larry Emdur: How does it work, Minister, if you do want to get out? You have to pay for the flights obviously. Is it an insurance thing? How does it work?

Marise Payne: I think almost everybody’s circumstance is different. There are a number of ways in which we have done this to date. In Nepal, for example, Australians paid for their flights but the Embassy there had to engage across the country to bring back Australians from remote areas like Lukla and Pokhara and Chitwan to make sure that they could be in Kathmandu for that flight. I think we actually gave Australians at the post there in Kathmandu a light meal when we gathered them all together to transport them to the airport. It's very much a hands-on micromanagement process as well. Where Australians are unable to afford because of their circumstances to pay for flights — and this is a challenging time, absolutely no question about that — we do have a capacity for what are known as traveller emergency loans and our High Commissions and our Ambassadors are making sure that we are publicising those, advising Australians that they are available. In fact, I saw some media this week of a gentleman we were able to help I think on his way back from Cambodia, so that’s important as well.

Kylie Gillies: So what you’re saying is there’s case by case basis. Because there is some taxpayer anger, that if people ignored travel advisories and left the country and then expected some sort of free flight, you know in return. But what you're saying is you are looking at this on a case by case basis. Can we move on to the China wet markets?

Marise Payne: Very much so.

Kylie Gillies: Yeah. Moving onto the wet market set to reopen, despite beliefs that this is where the virus originated. President Trump has pulled funding from the World Health Organization following that decision. Should Australia do the same? Where do you stand on that?

Marise Payne: I spoke to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, this morning actually and we did discuss the World Health Organization. We share some of the concerns of the United States and I do think there are areas of the operation of the World Health Organization that absolutely require review. And we have made a number of decisions based on the health advice we've received here in Australia, that have been made in advance of the World Health Organization. For example, in declaring coronavirus, from our perspective, as a pandemic. Closing our borders, for example, in relation to travel from Wuhan, Hubei province, from mainland China very early and were criticised by the World Health Organization for doing that. That said, I don't think that management issues perhaps, in Geneva, should have a negative impact on some of the very good work that we do in association with the World Health Organization, in places like the Pacific and in Indonesia. Australia and New Zealand are currently in a very, very strong partnership with the World Health Organization in the Pacific out of their office in Suva to deliver support to the Pacific, which is really, really important in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic like this. And I would not like to see that thrown away in the context of the other issues concerning the World Health Organization.

Larry Edmur: Minister, we are still a way off a vaccine it seems, but international borders could remain shut for the foreseeable future. Plenty of our viewers would like to know when they can travel again. When will we be able to fly again?

Marise Payne: Well I think that is not a simple question and of course, I have enormous respect for the many, many people, but particularly the Australians around the world, who are working on a vaccine for this coronavirus, in particular. More strength to their arm frankly, in those efforts. In terms of travel, I think we need to be guided by the health advice. We see our Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy, his Chief Medical Officers in the states and territories who are providing good solid advice to governments across the country, about how to manage these aspects of coronavirus and of the pandemic. That will include when we are able to open up to travel again, when we are able to relax any restrictions on our borders. I am very much guided by them, as we have been all the way through, in terms of our travel advice and our warnings and that will continue to be the case. I know Australians are very enthusiastic travellers. We've been really clear in our travel advice for anyone who is still overseas. Absolutely encourage them if they have access to a commercial flight to return to Australia now. That's why Qantas and Virgin are supporting those hubs out of London, out of Los Angeles, out of Hong Kong and out of Auckland. It's very important to take up those opportunities where they're available.

And in terms of future travel, well, as Foreign Minister, that's obviously a key part of my role, of my job. At the moment, I'm doing a great deal of video conferencing and teleconferencing. Today, starting with Secretary Pompeo this morning, tonight, ending with a meeting of women Foreign Ministers from around the world at about 11 o'clock Australian time, to talk about the impact on women and the impact of managing through this virus, particularly in developing nations. So video conferencing, teleconferencing, Zoom, Facetime — whatever works for you, I think is an important option to choose at the moment.

Kylie Gillies: As we say goodbye Minister, we know you must be working around the clock at the moment. What's keeping you awake at night?

Marise Payne: What is keeping me awake at night is the work that we have still to do. We have a big job that continues ahead of us and also recognising that this is an impact on the world, which will have significant flow on effects to international relationships, to our stability and security in our own region. So focused on supporting our friends in the Pacific, friends in Southeast Asia, Indonesia in particular, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea. Making sure that where we are able to provide support, Australia is delivering that. And then of course looking at the path beyond, how we do move beyond coronavirus, that experience and how we do re-engage and make sure that the things that are important to us, as Australians, our values, the rule of law, the human rights that we focus on are still a core part of how we do business.

Larry Edmur: Minister it is The Morning Show, we'd like to end on a lighter note if humanly possible. We're celebrating 30 years today of Wilson Phillips’ classic Hold On. This could almost be an anthem Minister, couldn't it? As I desperately try and find a link to this question for you, but couldn't Hold On be anthem, Minister and just trying to keep a nice clean clip for Media Watch here. But, what do you think?

Marise Payne: Absolutely. I think Wilson Phillips’ Hold On may be for a bit more than one more day. But yes, absolutely. I did see an amazing piece over Easter from the Barnes family. Jimmy and Jane Barnes, Mahalia and her husband, other members of the family doing the War is Over. Phenomenal piece of Australian music. I'd recommend that for your viewers as well.

Larry Edmur: Well thank you for not only indulging me, but for saving me from that particularly prickly question. We do appreciate your time, we know how very busy you are and good luck with all those big decisions you’ve got to make today and in the future. We appreciate that.

Marise Payne: Thank you both.

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