The acting federal immigration minister, Alan Tudge has blamed the Victorian government for not restricting interstate travel, after a group of international travellers were allowed to fly from their “travel bubble” into locked down Melbourne.
A group of 17 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 group is believed to be in metropolitan Melbourne.
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.”
Andrews has said he wants the federal government to provide information to New Zealand travellers that Victoria and Melbourne were not part of the travel bubble arrangements.