The Morrison Government must urgently take action to assist the crews on board the last remaining cruise ships in Australian waters. If the Government fails to act now, it risks creating another Ruby Princess-style disaster.
Three foreign flagged vessels remain in Fremantle, Darwin and Port Kembla with dozens of crew infected with Covid-19 needing urgent help, whilst the scale of infection on board is unknown.
Every day the Morrison Government waits to assist in repatriating these crews, it risks more crew members becoming critically ill, requiring transport to Australian hospitals and placing unnecessary additional stress on state health systems.
The Government must urgently put in place a plan to support these workers now. This plan must include testing of all remaining cruise ship crew members, providing medical assistance or quarantine to any unwell crew members, and repatriating all crew members who are not required for the return of the ships to their home ports.
Failure by the Federal Government to enact such a plan risk the crews on these vessels overwhelming our state health systems and potentially spreading coronavirus in Australia.
Under the conventions of maritime law, Australia must not force these vessels to leave Australian ports while the scale of infection is unknown and sick crew are still on board.
The Morrison Government must treat these people the same way we would want Australians treated in other countries. Some 600 Australians are still crewing other cruise ships around the world.
With the help of other governments, approximately 6,000 Australians have disembarked over 50 cruise ships and made it home. Just yesterday hundreds of Australians who were stranded on board the Greg Mortimer arrived home thanks to the assistance and cooperation by the Government of Uruguay.
The most immediate priority is the more than 1000 crew members on board the Ruby Princess currently alongside Port Kembla. These people are confined to their cabins, with no idea on when they will be able to return home.
Twelve crew members from this vessel have already had to be airlifted to Sydney hospitals and at least another 44 crew are confirmed to have contracted the virus.
The Morrison Government must immediately test all remaining crew members and ensure that appropriate medical care is available to any people who return a positive result.
Once the scale of the infection on board these vessels in Australian waters is known, arrangements need to be put in place, at the expense of the cruise liner companies, for crew members to return home as quickly and safely as possible.
Only the Federal Government has the capacity to deliver the required national response as it controls our borders, our biosecurity responsibilities, and our management of diplomatic relationships.
As a signatory to international maritime conventions, Australia has international obligations to assist people who need our help and the basic human rights of individual crew members must be respected.
Labor will be constructive and supportive, but we will speak up if things look like they are going off track. This is a national crisis and, above all, we want the Government to get the policy right.
With Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Senator Kristina Keneally and Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Senator Carol Brown.