The Federal Government will move to ban and heavily penalise Australians from exporting face masks and hand sanitiser to China, with those caught facing up to five years in prison.
The move by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton will also see punishment for the price-gouging of these and other “essential goods”, according to a report by The Daily Telegraph.
“We’ve taken the step to protect Australia’s interest, to stop unauthorised, inappropriate exporting of those things that we rely upon for our health care and so on at present,” national Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told ABC’s News Breakfast this morning.
“The night before last, I spent the evening on the phone to trade ministers from around the world where we discussed the importance of keeping these freight lines open, of course, protecting medical equipment where countries need it, scaling up production as we’re doing as a country at the present, with the military sent in to help in some cases to make more face masks.”
“But crucially we’re working together with other countries to make sure that we don’t just have what we need, but also that we can hopefully supply what is needed into less developed countries and those who are even more vulnerable to coronavirus.”
The decisions come after a Chinese-backed company Greenland Australia that recently sent 10,000 masks, 30,000 protective gowns and 68,000 disposable gloves from Sydney to Shanghai claimed it’s now gathering supplies to donate to Aussie doctors and nurses.
In a statement, the Sydney-based company said it sent the supplies in late January and early February because China “at the time, was the epicentre of the outbreak”.
“Greenland Australia also recognises that Australian people are currently at risk with the more recent and ongoing domestic spread of COVID-19, so the company is focused on helping people in this country through a similar effort that undertaken for China,” the company told The Daily Telegraph last night.
“We are working to procure a wide range of medical supplies that can be donated to the Australian medical community to help support their efforts to help further slow the spread of COVID-19.”
On top of masks and hand sanitiser, the export of gloves, gowns, goggles, visors and alcohol wipes is also banned.
Goods will be seized by customs and added to a national medical stockpile if they are not defective.
In a second regulation change, Health Minister Greg Hunt will attack price-gouging of the same critical items, with a spokesman saying there was no place for “profiteering in a time of crisis”.
“We are taking strong action so as to protect the vulnerable from the greedy,” he said.
Price-gouging is defined as trying to charge 20 per cent more than what was originally paid for the goods.
The decision comes as more than 60 Melbourne wharfies were today stood down after refusing to unload a container vessel carrying medical supplies from China.
Workers refused to unload the vessel – understood to be carrying toilet rolls, surgical masks, shoe coverings, chemicals for the manufacture of soap and detergent, surgical gowns, laboratory coats, hair nets, tinned food and white goods – due to coronavirus risk concerns.
Maritime Union Australia national assistant secretary Warren Smith said they didn’t want to see a repeat of Sydney’s Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle.
“The largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in Australia – which has already claimed several lives and caused hundreds of illnesses – was the result of inadequate measures put in place for the arrival of ships,” he said in a statement.