Interview with Ross Stevenson, 3AW Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subject: Closure of Australia’s borders due to the coronavirus.
20 March 2020

Ross Stevenson: We are joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne. Minister, good morning to you.

Marise Payne: Good morning.

Ross Stevenson: I read the front page of The Age, Australia's borders will closed to all foreigners for six months. Did I hear the Prime Minister use the expression six months yesterday?

Marise Payne: No, he didn't use the expression six months. I mean, what the Prime Minister has said is that this is a very fast moving situation. The spread of the coronavirus is our challenge to slow and to stop and he estimated, or assessed, that this was going to be an at least six month process in relation to all of our measures, but not specifically in relation to our borders.

Ross Stevenson: We’ve just spoken to a number of listeners this morning, we spoken to listeners who are overseas trying to get back, and we've spoken to listeners who have relatives overseas trying to get back. Any idea how many Australians would be actively trying to return to the country at the moment?

Marise Payne: Well at any one time there are literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Australians overseas in multiple locations around the world, as you can imagine. In fact, we are one of the biggest travelling nations in the world being very intrepid Australians. So this is a significant number of people who are in very many different places and I know that it is a difficult time for them and for their families – I absolutely understand that.

Ross Stevenson: They will be distressed but I guess the Prime Minister said this yesterday - there are limitations on what the government can do.

Marise Payne: There are limitations on what we can do but nevertheless we are trying everything at our disposal. Obviously we have to work within the rules of the country in which people are located in the first place. We also have limitations on the number of flights that are available and we've seen with the impact of the coronavirus commercially that airlines around the world, not just in Australia, but around the world have had to severely curtail their flights.

So we are working closely with governments, government to government, bilaterally. We are working with the industry, with the airline industry, and trying very hard to maintain contact with individuals with every means at our disposal so that we can keep them updated. I think Smartraveller advice has been updated over 500 times in a very, very short period of time, in a matter of weeks – that is most unusual. So we are working around the clock on that as well.

Ross Stevenson: Minister, we've spoken to a person in South America who's in lockdown in a hotel room and could be there indefinitely. If that person runs out of money, can they get assistance from the Australian Government through the consular officers or anything like that?

Marise Payne: Peru is a very difficult situation because the changes in Peru happened with no notice and applied domestically as well as to the international travel. Where there are issues with funds, of course we do suggest that people contact their families, their friends in the first instance. But occasionally in times of emergency we are able to provide some support. I think it's important to use Smartraveller, also to use our consular emergency lines and, if you don't mind, I'd be very pleased to just put those on the record for your listeners who may have family overseas. The line to call from within Australia is 1300 555 153. For those who are overseas, it's +6162613305.

Ross Stevenson: Got those numbers, I've written them down - we'll get them on our screens. And one last question, and thank you for your time, Minister, are all the consulates and embassies around the world – are they all open?

Marise Payne: As many as possible, in fact most of them are operational unless offices have been told to close in certain jurisdictions, in which case we are operating through emails, through text, through phone calls and of course a lot on social media. We have to use every platform that is at our disposal. This is a very social media conscious world and we use that as well.

Ross Stevenson: The original social media of course being talkback radio.

Marise Payne: Indeed, you are.

Ross Stevenson: Senator, we thank you for your time and good luck in trying times. Senator Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Those numbers I hope you've got them back in the studio – from within Australia: 1 300 555 153, from outside Australia: + 6162613305. We'll get that on our screens, we'll get it on our- all our social media.

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