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Zali Steggall MP tables a Motion urging the Government to introduce a Roadmap to Reopen Australia
2 June, 2021
That this House:
(a) Australia's borders have been closed for over a year to both inbound and outbound travel as an emergency measure;
(b) the Government has not disclosed or provided any credible timeline or roadmap to reopen the borders;
(c) many Australian citizens are struggling with disconnection from family members, partners and loved ones overseas and unable to see one another;
(d) there has been no extension of travel exemptions to family members or visa holders despite repeated calls;
(e) many Australian business sectors, like tourism, entertainment, agriculture, universities and industry are pleading for a roadmap to safely reopen the borders; and
(f) communities and businesses are continually exposed to quarantine leakages and pay the price with lockdowns; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) double the capacity of national quarantine facilities using best practice purpose-built facilities such as Howard Springs;
(b) prioritise expenditure to accelerate the rollout of the vaccine with a goal of achieving vaccination of at least 80 per cent of the population before the end of the year; and
(c) establish a clear roadmap for safely reopening Australian borders and clearly communicate goals and timeframes by reporting back to this Parliament and the Australian people without delay.
When I filed this motion last week, ahead of any announcements from Victoria, I was, sadly, obviously feeling that COVID was not done with us yet and, in fact, that the lack of long-term planning by the government was going to rear its head in yet another way. I stand here today on behalf of the people of Warringah, because they're calling for a road map for how we are going to deal in the long term with COVID. We can't have this jerking and moving along from one incident of hotel quarantine leakage to another, with the hope that somehow this is all going to be okay because bubble Australia is keeping us safe, without too much stress or pressure to vaccinate as quickly as possible, while at the same time congratulating ourselves that we're doing okay compared to the rest of the world. We need to have a discussion about Australia's long-term plans. Variants of COVID could be with us for up to four to six years. So, even on our incredibly slow rollout of the vaccine on the current schedule, we will, by the time we get to it, need to deal with variants and booster shots. So what is the long-term plan or road map that the government has for how Australia is going to go into the future with this situation?
Australian borders have been closed since March 2020, as an emergency response to a growing health crisis. I stress the word 'emergency'. At the time, it was the right thing to do, but I don't think any of us believed this was a permanent or long-term solution. The borders have now been closed for over 14 months. We have the most restrictive constraints in the world when it comes to limiting the movement of our citizens, and it's important to note that a significant number of people are impacted.
Our country is proud of its multicultural heritage. Twenty-nine point eight per cent of Australians were born overseas, and more than one-third in my own electorate of Warringah. Many are struggling with separation from family or partners overseas. Businesses in my electorate, particularly tourism operators, are suffering because of the lack of workers. Across the economy, sectors such as tourism, universities and agriculture are struggling because of closed borders. As we've seen with the breakout of COVID again in Melbourne, we are not done with breakouts. We absolutely must put in a long-term plan.
Visa holders and dual citizens are considering leaving Australia, as the extended separation from family members is causing distress. I have asked the minister and the government to consider extending travel exemptions to family members, including parents, and to visa holders, but there's a deathly silence in terms of having a more compassionate approach. Prospective marriage visa holders have paid upwards of $10,000 for visas, and they have not been granted exemptions to join their fiances.
More compassion and flexibility has to be shown, and there are solutions available. Of course, first, we need a comprehensive vaccination rollout plan. This really should be the No. 1 priority the government should be focusing on. But the next bottleneck is our quarantine. I am a strong supporter of our quarantine. I believe it is absolutely the ring fence that has kept Australia safe. But we must make it fit for purpose. We need to have federal quarantine facilities in each state, not in hotels but in fit-for-purpose facilities without shared air conditioning. This has to be done. The reality is that living with COVID is going to mean some form of quarantine for the foreseeable future, so we must invest in that capacity, because we can't have a situation where Australia is indefinitely on pause. We need to reopen, not all at once but in a gradual reopening so that sectors can survive, from travel agents to agriculture—so many areas.
We have capacity to increase our quarantine. We know that the government has now agreed to extend the capacity of Howard Springs from 800 to 2,000 people, but Jane Halton's review indicated it could go to 3,000 people. We know about all of our breakouts and leaks. Hotel quarantine currently takes approximately 6,000 people nationally. We need to double or triple that capacity so that we have an opportunity for the Australian economy to recover and reopen.
Young people are facing a lost decade if we continue with a complete lack of road maps and planning for the future of Australia. We need to do it safely and smartly. At the moment, it's as if the government is just ignoring the long-term issues.
Following the speech to Parliament, I wrote to the Minister for Home Affairs highlighting some of the key issues facing Australians and their families as a result of ongoing border restrictions:
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