Interview with Leon Byner, Mornings, 5AA

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Facilitated flights to help Australians return from overseas.
23 October 2020

Leon Byner: But 170 Australians are now on their way home after being stranded overseas for months because of the pandemic. So, we’ve got some good news. Let’s talk to the Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne. Good morning.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Leon. How are you?

Leon Byner: Very good. Now, I want to talk about this very good news about 170 Australians that are now on their way home after being stranded overseas.

Marise Payne: Very good.

Leon Byner: Tell me about it.

Marise Payne: Well, we have 170, approximately, Australians who will arrive in Darwin at 1:30 Australian Eastern Daylight Time today, so around noon. And then they will make their way to Howard Springs, where they’ll be accommodated in quarantine for two weeks. That’s the first step in a longer process. We have more flights to follow.

Leon Byner: So, this has been a bit of a logistic piece of work, hasn’t it? Because a lot of these people are people who are vulnerable, and they’ve tried to book and they’ve been knocked back, or their flights have been cancelled. So, how hard was it to get all this together?

Marise Payne: It is very complex. We have a very damaged international aviation environment. We have a lot of people overseas for different reasons who have found themselves vulnerable in more recent times. To get 170 or so people on the plane has taken over 1300 individual phone calls, and over 740 individual emails. So, it is a very painstaking and labour-intensive process, but I’m very pleased it’s underway.

Leon Byner: Now, we understand that these 170 are going to spend two weeks quarantining at the Howard Springs facility?

Marise Payne: They will, and the Northern Territory Government have helped us significantly with these arrangements. Having Howard Springs available now means that we will see an additional 5000 people able to go through the Howard springs facility, and we are giving priority to those Australians we've identified overseas as vulnerable.

Leon Byner: Now, there's obviously more than the 170, which is a good start. What's happening with the rest of the numbers of people, in the thousands, we're told, who are trying to come back?

Marise Payne: In the many thousands – that's absolutely true. And this is the first of at least eight flights that we are currently planning, particularly at the moment from London, from New Delhi and from Johannesburg. New Delhi in particular – India – has not had commercial flights at all since March of this year. There have been some charters, and Air India has been doing some repatriation flights. But we know there's a large cohort of Australians who have been endeavouring to return, and these flights will assist them. And then, we're also, of course, working with the state and territory authorities to lift quarantine caps where we can. That will assist with commercial arrivals as well. And that's something that the DFAT consular staff spend a great deal of time working on for Australians, too.

Leon Byner: So, Minister, what's your message to the many South Australians who have got family who they're trying to get back, or very special friends or relatives, into our state, or indeed our country. What's your message to them?

Marise Payne: My message, Leon, is that we absolutely understand what a difficult time this is for very many families and extended families. COVID-19 has changed the way that we have to live, and that we have to operate. We are helping as many Australians as we can to return. We're supporting as many Australians as we can in countries where they are having trouble obtaining flights as well. We, of course, have a hardship facility available for Australians who are struggling with the day-to-day costs of dealing with this. I would encourage those to ensure they're registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and that will make it much easier for us to identify them and to work with them.

Leon Byner: Minister, thank you for coming on, and thank you for this great effort for 170 of our Aussies now going to be home.

That’s Marise Payne, the Foreign Affairs Minister.

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