Interview with Natalie Barr, Sunrise

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: New travel restrictions; Measures to stop panic buying.
18 March 2020

Natalie Barr: The Prime Minister has issued an unprecedented warning against anyone travelling overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new travel advice is the Federal Government's strongest ever, at level four for the entire world. The message from the PM is simple – do not travel overseas. It comes as countries around the world close their borders as well.

And Foreign Minister Marise Payne joins me now. Thanks for your time, Minister.

Marise Payne: Good morning.

Natalie Barr: Australians who are currently overseas are being urged to come home. At some point, is the Government going to close Australia's border?

Marise Payne: That is not in our plan, Nat. We’ve taken a number of steps including recommending that Australians do not travel overseas, that those who are overseas and wish to come home do so now, and of course, on arrival, Australians, permanent residents and visitors to our country, are asked to self-isolate for two weeks. That is a very effective way of managing the challenges that the coronavirus presents and, in that context, the steps that we have taken are, we think, the appropriate ones.

Natalie Barr: There are hundreds of Aussies stranded on cruise ships right around the world. More and more countries are closing their borders and won't accept them. Is your Government going to step in?

Marise Payne: There are a lot of Australians who are on a number of cruise ships in different places around the world. So we’re working very closely from our posts in a number of those countries with local authorities to ensure that we understand, as best as possible, what regimes, what rules, they’re putting in place. Also, in contact with the passengers through our consular emergency system, so making sure, for example, we are communicating with the passengers via correspondence, asking the shipping lines to distribute that for us so they have the contact details they need, the contacts back into Australia, and into my department and working closely with them. I’ve been in touch with a number of posts literally in the last day doing just that.

Natalie Barr: The Prime Minister has flagged things are only going to get tougher. This is not a short-term problem. How long do you see these really tough travel restrictions being in place?

Marise Payne: Nat, we will do whatever we need to do to protect Australians; to protect the health and the safety of Australians. These are travel advices which are put in place to look after our own population and look after our country, frankly. The Prime Minister said yesterday that he thought these changes that we have to adjust to would last at least six months and I expect that to be the case.

Natalie Barr: So could we still be sitting here at Christmas unable to travel?

Marise Payne: So Nat, I don't think we want to speculate like that. I would encourage people to just very carefully follow the travel advice that we put forward. We have a very comprehensive suite of advice on our Smartraveller website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We will talk about it constantly, just like I am doing here with you this morning to make sure that Australians are aware of what they need to do to best protect themselves.

Natalie Barr: This is unprecedented. We have never had these level four restrictions. What was the main thing that made you say: we’ve got to stop, we’ve got to shut down?

Marise Payne: We’ll we’ve looked at rising infections around the world in a number of key locations. We understand that Australians who are travelling are much more likely to come into contact with cases of COVID-19 and therefore contract it themselves. We know that there are health systems in multiple locations around the world which are not what you would expect as an Australian here in your own country and we’re very conscious of not putting extra strain on those health systems. And we also know that countries are changing their requirements, their border rules at very, very short notice. It's very disruptive to travel. We don't want Australians to be in that position and so the overwhelming view, taken by the National Security Committee and taken by the National Cabinet, was that Australians should not travel overseas and those who are currently overseas, should, if they wish to, make best efforts to come home.

Natalie Barr: Police are stepping up these patrols of supermarkets. We’ve got these frenzied scenes. We heard the PM saying: stop it, stop hoarding. But it feels like it’s a self-perpetuating problem – as people see more hoarding, they are hoarding more. We’re now seeing, hearing that trucks aren’t getting through; there are curfews on when trucks can deliver. What can your Government do about this?

Marise Payne: Nat, we’ve actually discussed that issue. It was raised with us yesterday. Largely, that is a matter for local government who put in place the restrictions around the movement of heavy vehicles during night periods. So we will be engaging in those conversations to make sure that we are facilitating the delivery of goods into supermarkets but most importantly, Nat, this is not necessary.

Natalie Barr: Yep.

Marise Payne: Australians don’t need to do this …

Natalie Barr: [Talks over] Minister …

Marise Payne: … we have very good supply chains.

Natalie Barr: Minister, I don't want to interrupt but I know you’re saying its local government, but this is an unprecedented problem here and you’ve seen …

Marise Payne: [Talks over] Yes.

Natalie Barr: … we’ve got police patrolling the aisles. Can’t the Federal Government say to the local government, ease the restrictions, let the trucks through?

Marise Payne: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Natalie Barr: Yes. So you’re going to do that today?

Marise Payne: And that is the conversation that we’re having. Yes, absolutely. That conversation is already underway.

Natalie Barr: Okay. Great. Okay. That’s good. Thank you so much for your time.

Marise Payne: Thank you.

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