NATALIE BARR, HOST: Thanks Kochie. There's a growing push from within government ranks to open our borders sooner than mid-2022, as projected in last week's budget. City-based MPs Dave Sharma, Tim Wilson and Jason Falinski would also like vaccinated Aussies given a greater opportunity to travel. It comes as the PM says welcoming international students back to Australia is the next step in our recovery, but the repatriation of citizens who have contracted the virus in India is not being considered. For more, we're joined by Nationals MP, Barnaby Joyce, and Labor MP, Joel Fitzgibbon. Morning to you both. Barnaby, so a Newspoll published in the Australian this morning found 73 per cent of Aussies think borders should stay closed until at least mid-2022. Do you think your Coalition colleagues have misread the room on this one?
BARNABY JOYCE, MEMBER FOR NEW ENGLAND: Look, I don't know whether you stay closed till mid-2022. But you got to listen to the experts. And you got to if – are you going to be responsible for people dying if you get it wrong? Are you going to be responsible for bringing people into the country if they have the disease, if that they have a variant of the disease, with it breaking out in the community? Of course, you're not. You know, and I suppose I have some sympathy if you want to go overseas and risk yourself, got no problems with that, but just don't think you're going to come back. Because the disease doesn't follow international treaties or conventions, or liberties, or freedoms. The disease just works by its own rules of epidemiology.
BARR: Yeah, Joel, we seem to be getting this growing push, even the Deputy Chief Medical Officer in the last few days, quite a few people saying if you are vaccinated, you should be able to start traveling overseas sooner than 18 months away.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: And that debate will be ongoing, Nat. But there's a rebellion on the government's own backbench because these Members of Parliament represent electorates which have a high population of sub-continent people. So, you can understand. Can you imagine being in one of those electorates, you can understand why they are feeling the pressure. But what they're asking us to do, of course, is to put our own population here in Australia at risk to get these people home. Now, that's understandable. We are leaving people there to die, literally. And this would not be happening, Nat, if the government had moved sooner on quarantining, and indeed on vaccination. This is what this debate is really all about. I feel so much for those people who thought they were on a plane last week, only to be bumped off at the last moment because I had been tested to be positive and only to be found out later to be in fact negative. So, it must be terribly frustrating for them. And of course, these MPs feeling this pressure also in their own electorates.
BARR: Yeah, Barnaby, was that a bit of a shemozzle on the weekend? People, you know, not getting onto flights who tested negative, who tested positive, and then they ended up being negative when they got here.
JOYCE: Well, you're going to have a lot of those instances and that's what happens when you're trying to deal with whether someone has disease, or even in animals, when we're trying to quarantine areas and animals. Sometimes you get positive titer; sometimes you don't, sometimes you get a false reaction. That's, that's how it works. But you got to have to take these risks, because the alternative is people come back here and people die. And then there'd be a real outcry. People say, you're responsible for those deaths, you're responsible for my mother dying, you're responsible for my father dying. You know, that's where the botch-up would have real political pain. And no one likes a situation where people are locked up overseas or held overseas, but unfortunately, we've got to go with the risks for the people here.
BARR: Joel, the World Health Organisation says wealthy governments like Australia shouldn't be making their citizens pay for quarantine. Do you agree with that?
FITZGIBBON: Just on the first point first, Nat. We are – we are leaving people stranded in a country where there are 400,000 new cases every day. And they should have been brought home a long time ago, and we should have had more Commonwealth-led quarantining, and on the question of charges, well it should quite simply be based on your ability to pay, Nat. It makes sense that a wealthy individual coming back in should be able to pay or should be made to pay for their own quarantining. But low-income people returning shouldn't be forced to do so. We means test so many things, surely we can come to an arrangement on quarantine as well.
BARR: Joel, we've got 9000 people in India, how do we – how do we get that many people back in this country? Given that, you know, we've only got a certain amount of hotels at the – you can argue the system was broken and we should have got them in before, but right now, how do we get them back? Howard Springs has only got a maximum of 2000 people.
FITZGIBBON: That's right, Nat, you said the Prime Minister said he'd have them all home by Christmas. Now I don't have the perfect solution for fixing the problem after the event. It's a problem – a massive problem created by the government's missteps. And now sadly, it's not able to be fixed in quick time, but the government's – it spent $100 billion in the budget last Tuesday night, Nat, and not one initiative to improve this situation.
JOYCE: Well, the states aren't immune from helping out either. Every state I know has remote areas. If they wanted to, I'm sure they've got airports that can take big planes. I know that they're in Queensland, they would be in New South Wales, and if the state's want to put their shoulder to the wheel and basically get the modular units out there – otherwise known as dongas – out onto these sites and build their own. Rather than complaining, be part of the solution, I think that will help. Maybe at the National Cabinet, they make that a suggestion of how they can work with the Commonwealth to try and bring this outcome around then, you won't just have Howard Springs, you'll have others as well. But, you know, the state's pull all these big rules about closing borders and when they really [inaudible] help and really do something positive, they're awfully silent.
BARR: Ok. Not going to be solved overnight, maybe that's one of the suggestions for the next cabinet meeting. Thank you both. See you next week. Here's Kochie..