Labor’s Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally has ripped into her government counterpart, Peter Dutton, accusing him of going missing amid a “border security crisis”.
Ms Keneally has been increasingly critical of the federal government for its handling of the Ruby Princess, a cruise ship which was allowed to dock in Sydney. Well over 400 passengers have since tested positive for the coronavirus, accounting for an astonishing 10 per cent of Australia’s total reported cases.
The Australian Border Force has blamed the New South Wales government for the debacle, saying NSW Health gave the ship’s passengers a “green light” to disembark.
Ms Keneally, however, argues the federal government is ultimately responsible.
At a press conference this morning, she stepped up her attack on Mr Dutton in particular.
“Why has there been deafening silence from Peter Dutton? For heaven’s sake, where is Peter Dutton?” Ms Keneally said.
“We have a border security crisis on our hands and we’ve heard nothing from the Home Affairs Minister.”
Mr Dutton was diagnosed with the coronavirus in mid-March after a trip to the United States. He was discharged from hospital on March 17, and went into self-isolation at home. He has kept a relatively low profile since.
“When he was diagnosed with coronavirus I was one of the first to wish him well. I wished him well in letters since, and I wish him well today,” said Ms Keneally.
“But the Minister for Home Affairs has turned up on TV and radio, and he said he’s feeling well and capable of working from home.
“So if that’s the case, it is incumbent he stand up and explain to the nation how this border security failure occurred, and what steps he’s going to take to ensure that those responsibilities handed to the state governments are being implemented in a way that ensures Australians stay as safe as possible when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus.
“I look forward to Peter Dutton standing up in whatever form he can, whether it is from home, on radio, an interview through Zoom or Skype. We can do it, and if he can’t, perhaps the Prime Minister needs to look at appointing an active Home Affairs Minister, because we’re talking about nothing less than the security of our Australian borders.”
Mr Dutton was, incidentally, on 2GB radio this morning for his weekly interview with host Ray Hadley.
The Home Affairs Minister did not speak specifically about the Ruby Princess, but he did address the continuing issue of cruise ships floating off the coast of Australia.
He said he was working closely with state authorities, including NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
“It’s clear that some of the companies have been lying about the situation of the health of passengers and crew on board,” said Mr Dutton.
“What we’ve agreed to do with NSW is to look at each of the vessels. I need to get an honest picture of what’s happening, so we are going to have a health company, but also NSW and WA Health, and probably Queensland Health as well, do a proper assessment of what’s happening on board.
“We’ve got to deal sensibly with each of them.
“But it is an issue for us, and the Australian Border Force Commissioner has issued directions for a number of vessels to depart Australian borders, and we’re working through that with each of the companies now.”
Mr Dutton said he hoped to come out of self-isolation tomorrow.
“I’m hoping to be set free tomorrow, but I’ll get the test result back today. I feel pretty well, but there’s a lot happening, so hours of isolation are going quickly,” he said.
The Ruby Princess decision is considered one of the biggest debacles of the coronavirus outbreak in Australia. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has introduced a ban on cruise ships docking anywhere in the state, vowing the mistake will not be repeated.
Despite Ms Berejiklian taking measures for everyone who left the ship to be contacted by health authorities, those people may have infected others – and that’s a number we are still yet to see.
Of the 20 coronavirus deaths recorded across Australia, at least five have been passengers from the Ruby Princess.
Passengers who left the ship the day it was allowed to dock have said they were not told that anyone on board had presented any symptoms during the voyage.
Elisa McCafferty, an Australian woman who flew home to London with her husband immediately after disembarking the ship, told the BBC nothing was said at anytime about anyone being sick on board.
“It was a distinct lack of information coming through from Princess the entire time,” she said.
“I turned on my phone and I started getting all these notifications from people back in Australia saying ‘there’s been confirmed cases on the Ruby’.
“And I was just absolutely petrified. We had just been on two full flights – what if we had infected someone?”
Another passenger, Bill Beerens who lives in Sydney, tested positive for the virus the day he disembarked.
“I think that they let us down,” Mr Beerens told the ABC.
“I do honestly believe that they (cruise ship management) knew what was going on and they just wanted us off the boat.”