Speech: Bring them home

Speech: Bring them home Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (15:59): It's absolutely clear that the government has failed Australians who are stuck overseas. The government simply does not get what stranded Aussies are going through, so I want to share the stories of local people who have been left stranded and feeling abandoned to help those opposite realise the seriousness of the situation for so many.

James is from Shoalhaven Heads, but he is currently stuck in south western Siberia. James was due to return home in March, but when COVID-19 hit he was unable to leave. Since then, James has booked several flights home, all of which have been cancelled at the last minute. He was booked on a flight in July, in August, on 29 October and another due to leave today, Russian time. All of these flights were cancelled.

James' immediate concern was that his Russian visa was due to expire. Luckily, he has had it extended several times, but it has been an extremely anxious time for him, fearing that he will be left to languish in a foreign country illegally with no means of getting home. Here is some of what James said to me in recent emails: 'Unfortunately the chances of coming home via commercial airlines are becoming more remote. As of the last month, several airlines have cancelled Australian services in accordance with the arrival cap. Flights are getting increasingly expensive, and I simply cannot afford most of them. I have had my last flight cancel on me again.' He says, 'I want to know when I will be able to come home.' I want to know: what is the government doing to help James get home?

Amy from Surf Beach has been living in the UK for the last two years. At the time COVID-19 hit, Amy had a job and a home. Now she has neither. Amy had flights booked on 28 April, 12 July, 12 August, 3 September and 25 October. She was kicked off all of them. To be clear, the flights were not cancelled. Because of the government's arrival caps, Amy was kicked off so they could take more of the higher paying first and business class passengers. So what is the government going to do to help Amy get home?

One of the most heartbreaking examples of the government's failures to help and support Australians overseas is Colin from Berry. Thankfully, my office successfully helped to get him home, but his story is a stark reminder of why it is urgent and critical that we do more now to help stranded Aussies. Colin had been house-sitting with his wife in France when COVID-19 hit. His wife returned home, but Colin wanted to fulfil his commitment before coming home. Multiple flight cancellations left Colin up to $10,000 out of pocket. When the owners of the house returned, Colin was forced to live in his car while he awaited a flight home. In the meantime, Colin became very ill and required emergency surgery, which left him with significant and ongoing health issues. But his flights continued to be cancelled. Thankfully, Colin is now back in Australia. But why should he have had to suffer through this?

I just want to tell one more story of Matt and his young family, from Cunjurong Point in my electorate, who are stuck in Hong Kong. Matt's daughter was born on 10 November, and sadly she has a serious heart condition. Matt and his family are desperate to get her home to see a paediatric cardiologist at Westmead Children's Hospital. They were due to fly home on 3 December, but they were bumped from that flight, with the airline citing 'unexpected limitations imposed on flights by the Australian Government'. They want to quarantine at home to protect their daughter on doctors' recommendations, but the New South Wales government has rejected this. In his email to me, Matt said they were totally devastated and that worse, come 14 December, they won't have anywhere to live as they have to leave their apartment. Matt has already lost his job, and they are feeling hopeless. They just want to be home. They are now due to leave on 7 December, but they have been given no guarantee they won't be bumped again. If that happens, Matt has been told there won't be another flight until April. What will Matt and his family do then?

The government needs to start taking the plight of Australians stranded overseas seriously. We need to bring them home now.