Topics: Repatriation of Australians stranded overseas; Opening up of the Howard Springs Facility.
Natalie Barr: The first of eight repatriation flights for Australians stranded overseas will land in Darwin later today, where passengers will quarantine at the Howard Springs Facility for two weeks. The first flight is coming from London carrying 175 passengers identified as most vulnerable, including nine infants who are coming home for the first time. Minister for Trade and Tourism Simon Birmingham joins me now. Morning to you. How long is it going to take to bring the tens of thousands of stranded Aussies home?
Simon Birmingham: Well good morning. Look, it’s great news today for these 161 Australian who join the almost 400,000 Australians who have returned home successfully since the start of the pandemic. So we’ve seen massive numbers managed to be repatriated so far. We’ve been working hard with the states and territories to increase the quarantine capacity and we’ve opened a new facility at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory to make sure that’s the case. And so hopefully that means we’ll be able to see more on the further charter flights coming, as well as more over time on the commercial services coming into Australia, and hopefully we can add to that 400,000 tally of those who’ve already returned home.
Natalie Barr: We’ve been doing stories on the 30,000-odd people stranded overseas for months now. Why has this taken so long or why couldn’t you have increased the caps on bringing people home?
Simon Birmingham: The caps are a function of the number of people that the states and territories believe they can safely accommodate in quarantine, and what we don’t want to do is undermine the safety of Australia in terms of our successful suppression of COVID-19. We’ve seen, in Victoria, with tragic results what happens when quarantine goes wrong and it spreads out into the community. So we’ve had to respect the states and territories there. We’ve worked with them to add thousands of places to those quarantine caps. In opening up the Howard Springs Facility in the Northern Territory, we’re creating another 5000 places over the next six months. And hopefully, we can see a situation soon where Melbourne again opens up to return travellers and safely quarantines them this time, and that again can add thousands of additional spots. But it has to all
be done in a safe and secure way, and that’s why it takes a little bit of time.
Natalie Barr: Okay. Minister, thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.