Federal Parliament - Cowan Electorate: COVID-19

December 01, 2020

Dr ALY: I rise on this grievance motion tonight to take the opportunity to talk about some of the cases in my electorate of families that have been separated because of the pandemic this year and who have family members stranded overseas. I also want to raise a grievance about the lack of government assistance and action from this government in ensuring that those Australian citizens who are overseas and those who are onshore here but have family members overseas are being given their due attention.

We currently have over 35,000 Australians stranded overseas in various countries, and the Prime Minister made a promise to those people that he would get them home by Christmas. As of today, that's around three weeks away. We are now in December, and the number of people who are stranded overseas has not dwindled since the time that the Prime Minister made that promise.

There's a kind of a cliché around politicians and the promises they make and the promises they break. I think we need, in this day and age, when the trust in politics is at such a low level, to be mindful of the expectations that we set up among the people that we serve here in this place. If you are the Prime Minister, you need to be particularly mindful of those expectations that you set up. If you make a promise to people that you'll get them home by Christmas, then you need to do your utmost to ensure that you do not break that promise.

When it first became apparent that there would be thousands of Australians unable to return home during the pandemic, Labor offered some very practical solutions. I thought they were excellent solutions that came from Senator Wong's and Senator Keneally's office. They included opening up new facilities for quarantine. We have all these facilities dotted around Australia that are costing us millions of dollars to keep, but we're not even using them. That was a great suggestion I thought: open those up for quarantine, if quarantine is the issue. Those suggestions also included using underutilised arrival ports, particularly air arrival ports, to accommodate incoming flights or an increase in incoming flights—again, a really good suggestion. The third suggestion was using RAAF flights or charter flights to get people home, which of course was a good suggestion as well. But none of those suggestions was taken up.

Now Australians are shaking their heads at the fact that this government couldn't make RAAF flights or charter flights available for stranded Australians but managed to make RAAF flights available for former Senator Cormann to travel around Europe in the lap of luxury, all in aid of securing himself a position on the OECD. Don't get me wrong. Labor of course supports the appointment of an Australian to the OECD, but we didn't support the use of a private jet at the stupendous cost of $4,000 an hour—not $4,000 a day; $4,000 an hour—at a time when Australians are doing it real tough. Australians didn't write this government a blank cheque to spend on what essentially amounts to a post-political-career job interview for one of its former senators. When asked to justify the cost of flying former Senator Cormann around, the Prime Minister argued that it was essential to keep former Senator Cormann safe from COVID.

I wish the Prime Minister showed the same level of compassion to the citizens of Australia. I wish he demonstrated equal concern for the safety, wellbeing and mental health of Australians stranded overseas and the families here in Australia who are desperate to be reunited with their loved ones. I know that every single member in this parliament, like me, has been inundated with requests for assistance either from people here or from people who are stranded overseas. It is the most common issue that my office is dealing with at the moment, the most common issue presenting to my office. Sometimes we're really fortunate in that we do have a success in bringing somebody home. Those successes, unfortunately, are too few and far between.

Recently one of those successes was with Mr and Mrs Tompkins, who had sought some advice on how to bring their mother to Australia. They were given a G2G PASS by the Western Australian government and thought that that was all they needed. So the elderly mother sold her home and sold all her belongings, all her furniture, got to the airport and then was told at the airport that she didn't have the right papers. They came to me in absolute desperation. I can see on everyone's faces here that you've had those same heartbreaking stories present to you in your offices too. You know what I'm talking about. We were very fortunate that we were able to assist, and Mr and Mrs Tompkins's mother came over from the UK. Rather than having her be left homeless for a long period of time, we were able to get her onto the next flight and she was able to come here. She had to quarantine for two weeks but is now reunited with her family.

I've got Mr Brown from Girrawheen, whose baby son was born in Russia. He has never met his baby boy, who was born in February. He can't bring them here. They are stuck overseas. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I've got someone who asked about an elderly friend of theirs in Poland who has got everything ready to go but was told that she needs to get from Poland to Dubai in order to get back to Australia, without any assistance about how to do that.

I heard one of the most heartbreaking stories recently. I was at a school recently and one of the young girls in a year 9 class came up to me and said, 'You said that some people come to you and they ask for your help to bring someone back from overseas,' and I said, 'Yes,' and she said, 'Can you help me?' and she started bawling her eyes out. This 15-year-old girl hadn't seen her mum since February. Her dad, Mr Joshi, is the priest at the local Hindu vegan temple, and his wife and her mum, Mrs Joshi, travelled back to India to complete the final semester of her studies when COVID hit. So this 15-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother haven't seen their mum since February. This gorgeous young girl started bawling her eyes out and I said to her, 'Please get your father to call my office and we'll see what we can do.' We're currently working on that case as well.

The stories go on and on—and I know that that is the case for everyone. It makes me wonder why more hasn't been done and why those suggestions that we made haven't been taken up. Don't make a promise—a promise that gives people so much hope and that touches so many lives, from a 15-year-old girl to a baby boy who hasn't met his dad yet—to these people that you are going to reunite them by Christmas when you can't fulfil that promise. And, if you do make that promise, do your damnedest to make sure that you follow through. We're not just talking about fairy tales here. These are real people. These are real lives. I urge the government to start taking this more seriously than they have been.