Well the Government is facing increasing criticism over this evacuation plan and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton joins us now. Mr Dutton, thank you so much for your time.
We've just heard from Dr Tony Bartone from the Australian Medical Organisation, saying that they've not been consulted on this and that we need to find a more humane solution. What's your response?
Good morning guys. Tony's a very decent guy and a great doctor and obviously the AMA's had a long-standing position opposing Christmas Island – so I think that's an issue really that's in the past.
The fact is that we need to find a facility that can accommodate in the order of 500-600 people. We want to make sure that we're protecting Australians, both offshore and here as well. People are there for a maximum of 14 days whilst observations take place. Obviously there are medical facilities on Christmas Island. People will be isolated from the other Christmas Island community and we did it – made the decision – in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer, who's in contact with the WHO on a daily basis and obviously is informed by the advice of the Chief Medical Officers from the states and territories.
So there's an enormous amount of consultation and advice that's taken in relation to these matters and I think it's a sensible decision.
Do you think you're going to have many takers for the evacuation? I mean, trading a quarantine zone with a deadly virus for a hellhole?
Well Karl, we've said to people before and we'll repeat it again now, we want to provide support to those people who want to get out. Now, there'll be some Australian citizens who are long-term residents – in the Wuhan province for example – and they'll make a decision as to whether or not they want to leave. Obviously hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on facilities, immigration detention centres around the country, and I actually think Christmas Island and the facilities there are somewhat different – probably even to your file footage – compared to what it was 10 years ago, what it is today is something quite different.
So the fact is though, as you point out, I can't clear a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne to accommodate 600 people. We don't have a facility otherwise that can take this number of people. I want to make sure that we keep Australians safe. The Prime Minister has that as his priority as well. We want to help people out of a difficult situation, but we don't inadvertently want to put Australians here at home at risk either. So I think it's a sensible, measured approach and I think people should be reassured by that message.
Well the World Health authorities are saying don't do it, don't bring these people out of the Wuhan province and bring them home. Why are you ignoring their advice?
Well Ally, we act in our country's best interests and the best interests of our citizens. Other countries including Japan, South Korea, the United States, France, New Zealand, obviously wants to get some of their residents out as well.
So we'll make sure that we do it in a responsible way and as Tony pointed out before, Australia has some of the best practices in the world in terms of dealing with these viruses, making sure that we communicate effectively to the public, making sure that doctors are properly informed so they can respond to patients as they present either in hospitals, emergency departments, or at GP clinics or, importantly, at pharmacies as well.
So we're working very closely with the medical community and we don't want this virus to spread here. It is a major concern obviously in China and that concern grows. So you would expect us to act in our best interests, in our national interests, which at the forefront includes of course making sure that our citizens are safe.
Minister, can we just read out a text that was sent to the ABC by the Christmas Island Shire President Gordon Thomson which says: “saw PM's announcement via SBS, regressive colonial era ideas since 2001, create convict settlement for innocent people, now will be a leper colony.”
I mean, we saw with the bushfire crisis when you said that the military will be stepping in to help…
…so Ally, sorry Ally, Gordon of course is the local President of the Labor Party and he has been opposed to offshore processing from day one. He was called yesterday…
…but can I just make the point though; that the people of Christmas Island and the WA Government which runs the island didn't know about this plan until they heard about it in the media.
And we saw this with the bushfires when Scott Morrison came out and said that the military's going to come in and help. A great announcement, but he hadn't told the fire chief of New South Wales, he hadn't picked up the phone and told him. Doesn't there need to be better communication?
…Ally again, the only reason I'm interrupting you is it is not correct. Gordon Thomson was called before the Prime Minister's announcement. As I understand, he's on holidays in Malaysia and we could only get his voicemail. There was an email then sent to his office because we couldn't make contact with his office...
…was the WA Government told?
Natasha Griggs, who is otherwise the on-island representative, was advised before the Prime Minister's announcement – put out information.
Look, the Labor Party of course will criticise. We're not utilising any WA resources. We don't want people going to Christmas Island medical centres or health facilities.
We are isolating people within the assets of the Commonwealth Government and for the WA Premier to be out there making political points and Gordon Thomson as a Labor Party member as well making political points off the back of what is a significant crisis, I think reflects more on them than it does on Scott Morrison or anybody else. The Prime Minister has made the right decision here. We communicated it ahead of his announcement and if they want to play political games then let them play those off to the side.
At the end of the day and look, there are a lot of parents out there who are deeply concerned about their kids. There are a lot of people out there who are deeply concerned about their loved ones who have come back from overseas. There's confusing messaging between the state and federal governments and I think that is across the board. Everyone understands and knows that the messaging is confusing at the moment. It needs to be cleared up.
At the very least, shouldn't you be making moves now, because this continues to evolve and you continue to change the messaging, shouldn't you be making the big decisions and the hard decisions now that are going to have to come anyway in four or five days' time?
Well Karl, we're making the decisions based on the medical advice that we receive from the WHO and from Australia's Chief Medical Officer – and as the AMA President pointed out before – Australia is in the top one or two in the world in terms of the way in which we deal with these issues. We've dealt with them before, Ebola for example, and we'll continue to do that, but the Health Ministers are informed by their Chief Medical Officers who meet with the Chief Medical Officer on a daily basis. So there is an absolute consistency in the advice, but it will be updated as we get further information out of China about the way in which patients are being assessed, ways in which the virus may mutate or the ways in which people are treating that virus both here and around the world. You would expect the information to be updated on a daily basis or as we get that information, so there is a consistency.
Now your point, I guess, is that some of the states who are responsible for the state schools have made different decisions about when kids can go back to school, but they're decisions for state Premiers and state Education Ministers and the Commonwealth Government doesn't run those schools so we rely on their advice. In some cases they've said: look, we've listened to the medical advice, but we want to go beyond that. Well that's an issue for the state Premiers.
Okay. Minister, thank you so much for your time. It is a very difficult issue to navigate. We acknowledge that and appreciate your time this morning.
Thank Ally. Thank you.