Dr HAINES (Indi) (10:32): Like many Australians, the thought of having my family together for Christmas has kept me going through this hard year of isolation and separation. But, for hundreds of my constituents whose family members are stranded overseas, this thought is as far away as possible.
Over the last few months, dozens of people have contacted my office pleading for help to secure a flight home.
There is Marg, a 74-year-old intrepid adventurer from Bright. When she visited Canada for a six-week holiday in February, she could never would have guessed she would be there for eight months, with her flight cancelled and her mental and financial resolve starting to crumble. I’m happy to say we have Marg home now.
Jim’s sister got stuck in India after one of her regular trips abroad for charity work. She was driven to desperate measures to secure a flight. Happily, she’s now home and will be reunited with her family this week.
Tony, from Benalla, has a 27-year-old daughter and she and her partner tried time and time again to leave the UK in the face of increasing case numbers. Happily, she’s now home safe too.
But these constituents say the government must be more proactive in getting people home safe and sound. They ask me, quite frankly: ‘Where was the government when we needed them?’ In the end, these stories are good news stories, but these people had resources and family members who could advocate on their behalf, but what about the Australians who don’t have this support? The number of Australians stuck overseas classified as vulnerable, experiencing financial stress or with disability or mental ill-health has doubled since September to now over 8,000 people. A central role of government is to support its isolated and vulnerable citizens overseas. With the coronavirus pandemic raging in the Northern Hemisphere, this is becoming more urgent day by day.
I urge the government to do more to get our families and friends home. The closure of our international borders has also impacted the labour market in Indi, with agriculture, tourism, hospitality and accommodation sectors struggling to find employees. Many people on working holiday or skilled visas left at the start of the pandemic. To say we could just get school leavers to pick fruit completely misunderstands the important role this migrant workforce plays in our regional economy.
And then there’s the people on partner visas, who need to be offshore to receive their visas, but who are not permitted to leave the country or have no guarantees that they can return. I won’t pretend these are easy problems to solve, but we need to urgently find solutions such as what has been put forward in the government’s own review on quarantine.
To the Australians stuck overseas, desperate to see their families by Christmas: we have not forgotten you; we will get you home eventually.