Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Politics

Immigration minister points finger at Victoria over New Zealand travellers | Australia news

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The acting federal immigration minister Alan Tudge has blamed the Victorian government for not restricting interstate travel, thereby allowing a group of international travellers to breach the established “travel bubble”, while Daniel Andrews has accused the federal government of not keeping track of travellers they have allowed into the country.

A group of New Zealanders flew into Sydney as part of the newly formed international travel arrangements between Aotearoa and participating Australian jurisdictions.

Victoria, still working to contain its second wave of the coronavirus, is not one of those participating regions, and its premier, Daniel Andrews, wrote to Scott Morrison expressing his disappointment in what he called a failure of the system.

Andrews has also publicly criticised the Australian Border Force for delays in providing the passenger information cards to Victorian authorities. The majority of the group was believed to be in metropolitan Melbourne.

Tudge said there was nothing stopping people from entering Victoria, as no restrictions have been placed on people entering the state. Andrews said he has been informed there are at least 55 New Zealanders who have entered Victoria, not 17 as the state was first told, and at least one traveller on the list given to Victorian authorities, was in Byron Bay. He also said that of those 55, only 13 could be reached, because not all of the essential information was included on the passenger cards.

“We have been given a list, 12 hours after they arrived, that is ‘gold standard’, apparently,” Andrews said.

“We are having to find these people. We get a phone number and we get … this list of who is here, right? We are ringing them, one of them was in Byron Bay. And yet we were told they had landed and travelled to Melbourne. Seriously, my advice to Minister Tudge is, instead of stubbornly defending this, work with us and let’s make sure Victoria is not part of a bubble that we never agreed to be in.”

Tudge said there was nothing stopping New Zealanders travelling to Melbourne, as Victoria had never put entry restrictions in place.

Andrews said the position of the federal government was domestic border closures were not necessary, but he thought given Victoria had said it did not want to be part of the travel bubble until it had its outbreak under complete control, the federal government would have prevented onward travel.

“Now, if that isn’t possible, let’s talk about what else can happen. I don’t want to shut our border, but he should have a conversation with his boss,” he said.

“I have lost count of the number of times [Scott Morrison] has said to me, thank you for not closing your border. They want to get all the borders open and I want that too. We cannot just have people wandering into the place from another country. It is New Zealand today, but who knows what the next bubble is?”

Tudge said he has been informed by the (acting) federal chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, that Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, was present at a meeting where the travel bubble arrangements were discussed, including that domestic travel was a possibility.

Tudge said he was told that on two occasions where the issue was discussed, Sutton raised no objections.

“I am told by the chief medical officer of Australia, that the matter was expressly discussed at the meeting on Monday, and expressly discussed at the meeting on Tuesday, and in both cases, the Victorian government was represented at those meetings and raised no objections, and in both cases the Victorian government was represented by their chief health officer,” he said at a press conference on Sunday.

“… I am informed by our chief medical officer that he was present, and the minutes clearly show that he was present, for both meetings. And the minutes themselves showed that this was expressly discussed, the fact that there would be people from New Zealand arriving into Sydney, and then potentially travelling on to other destinations.”

Tudge said it was not his place to release the minutes. He also said Victoria had the option of closing its domestic borders, if it did not wish to have travellers from other jurisdictions enter.

“I mean, the Victorian government, if they wanted to put in place arrangements, they would work with the airlines and put in place the arrangements, just like any jurisdiction has put in place arrangements, with the airlines, so that you have to show that you have got a certificate before you jump on a plane to go into Western Australia,” he said, while also pointing out the federal government did not support domestic border closures.

Tudge defended the actions of the border force, and said the passenger cards were provided to Victoria four hours after the state asked for the information, but added he did not anticipate there being any transmission issues, given New Zealand’s low rates of the virus.

“Again, I would just point out that the risks of those 17 people having the virus is very, very small, because there [is] zero community transmission in New Zealand. Right? There is more community transmission in Victoria than there is in New Zealand.

There is more community transmission in Sydney than there is in New Zealand. And so the risks of a Sydneysider ordinarily crossing the border is higher than it is for a Kiwi.”

Tudge then said it was time for Andrews to ease the social distancing restrictions and “let Melbourne be like Sydney”.

“Thankfully the virus numbers are down, but we need to reopen for the sake of people’s mental health and for the sake of people’s social wellbeing, for general freedom principles but also for economic reasons so that people can return to work. That is what we want to see. Let’s let Melbourne be like Sydney.”



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