Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:44): [by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs, Senator Cash. As of yesterday, 'fortress Australia' has further tightened its borders. Under the strict new rules, even Australian citizens and permanent residents who ordinarily live in another country will need to seek exemptions to leave Australia if they come back temporarily and could very well be denied the exemption. The changes have been made without warning and have caused anxiety and fear. As it is, 38,000 Australians are still stranded overseas, with many desperate to return home. Minister, why are you inflicting unnecessary pain and further anguish on people who are already separated from their loved ones and some with seriously sick family members who will now be further restricted from coming here because they may not be able to return to the country that they live in?
Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:45): Senator Faruqi, you and I are going to have to differ in relation to the government's response, or your opinion of the government's response, to keeping Australians safe. Australia's strong border control system has undoubtedly been a major factor in our success in managing, as a country, COVID-19, in particular when you look at the global situation. The Morrison government acted swiftly at commencement of COVID-19 to ensure that Australians remain safe.
In relation to the border and travel exemption regime, I think, without a doubt, the closed border and travel exemption regime is underpinned by a system of quarantine designed to ensure that people returning do not present a threat to the community. In relation to the changes to the outbound travel arrangements that Senator Faruqi refers to, as a government we have sought unapologetically to take measures that combat the virus whilst also respecting the rights and freedoms of people. The government's pandemic response is consistent with legal and health advice and is targeted as most effectively protecting Australians from COVID-19. We work closely, as you know, Mr President, with the states and territories through national cabinet to ensure that our COVID-19 response is both measured and appropriate. In fact, I note that the Federal Court has consistently found in favour of the government in previous challenges to Australia's border restrictions.
In relation to the changes that Senator Faruqi refers to, this—
The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cash. Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:47): [by video link] Minister, we are a nation with close to 30 per cent of the population born overseas and a further 20 per cent who have at least one parent born overseas. Do you accept that these unnecessary and harsh restrictions are hurting tens of thousands and will disproportionately impact people from multicultural backgrounds?
Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:47): What I would say to Senator Faruqi is this: COVID-19, Senator Faruqi, affects everybody. You've seen in the ACT today a seven-day lockdown; it is affecting people in the ACT. It will affect people more broadly, but, when it comes to decisions in relation to Australia's borders, it is a fact, Senator Faruqi, that our strong border control system has undoubtedly been a major factor in our success in managing COVID-19. In terms of the changes that you have referred to, as you would be aware, it does not stop Australians who normally reside overseas from leaving Australia. All we have done is remove automatic exemption. Australians who genuinely reside overseas and are seeking to return to their country of residence are still able to do so, but we can't make apologies for our strong border control system.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question?
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:49): [by video link] Minister, your government has put in another barrier for people living overseas to come back here, because they fear that they won't be able to go back to their place of residence, all while the rich and the famous, the well-connected and the far-Right trolls are allowed to swan in and out of Australia. Minister, do you think it's fair that the rich and famous are allowed in while ordinary people are left to suffer in silence?
Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:49): Again, Senator Faruqi, I don't agree with the assertions that you have put in place. Decisions regarding anyone who seeks to come into Australia or, at this point in time, exit Australia are made by the appropriate authorities in Australia. Again, Australia has put in place strong border control systems, and they have undoubtedly been a major factor in our success in managing COVID-19.
Our role as a government is to keep Australia and Australians safe. That does not mean that every measure is going to be supported by, as you can see here, the Australian Greens. But our role as a government is to keep Australians safe. In terms of the measures that we have put in place in relation to our strong border control systems, they have undoubtedly been a major factor in keeping Australians safe. (Time expired)