HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.33 pm]: I rise because I want to continue the comments I have been making in this chamber about what is happening with Western Australians trying to return here and what is happening to them in quarantine. It was very interesting to read Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s letter tabled in the other place today. He proposes increasing international passenger arrivals, capped at 500 passengers per week into Perth, to 1 025 passengers by no later than 28 September 2020. I welcome any proposal that will make it easier for Western Australians to return home. Members should be aware—if they are not by now, something is seriously wrong—that a lot of people, whether they are overseas or interstate or need to come here often for quite tragic reasons, are experiencing extraordinary hardship as a result of their inability to get back to Western Australia. Of course, we do need to know absolutely that the return of Western Australians is done in an orderly fashion and we need to make sure we have clear processes. But no-one can argue that it is being handled well at the moment and, frankly, if they do, they are delusional and not paying attention to what is going on.
I think the penny is starting to drop finally that the vast majority of people trying to return are not simply straggling returning travellers. I have seen appalling commentary on social media from members of the public who are just making assumptions that people should have been trying to return since March. We know that plenty of people started to try to return, particularly from overseas, in March, but for a range of reasons completely beyond their control, including flights being cancelled over and again, they find themselves now, in September, still unable to get back to WA. That is the reality. People’s life circumstances also change—contracts overseas finish, visas expire, family tragedies occur—and they need to get back. People are in places where there is risk and they want to be able to get home to their loved ones. There are a range of reasons why Western Australians are now trying to get back to the state.
As I have said before, we are going to have to live with this regime, in my opinion, for quite a while, so we need to make sure that we are getting it right. Again, no-one should say that calling for an orderly and compassionate regime means that we are going soft on public health measures. The two are not mutually exclusive. Anyone who says that they are, as my husband would say, is a lying liar who lies! We can get it right, people; we need to get it right. There are a few practical things that we can do that will make life immeasurably easier for people trying to get back. As I mentioned last week, we need to allocate people a caseworker who can help them to navigate the federal and state requirements, liaise with the hotels and airlines, and advise them on the documentation that they need to supply and where they are perhaps falling down with their application. The fact that people apply six or seven times and get knocked back and then magically manage to get through with no explanation of what has changed is unacceptable and causing people an extraordinary level of distress. We need changes to the “Good to Go” process. People need to be able to indicate whether they are a citizen or a resident and the circumstances leading to them needing to come home. If people are trying to get back on compassionate grounds, they need to be given the parameters for what they need to supply and what is expected. People simply do not know what they are supposed to do.
The government is going to have to start liaising much more closely with the airlines to make sure no price gouging is going on and to indicate the priority cases. We are seeing people literally being left homeless. They are packing up their lives overseas and going to the airport, where they suddenly discover that their flights have been cancelled and they are told to come back in two months’ time. That is leaving people without the capacity to earn an income and children unable to get an education. It is not okay.
I know that the federal government said in its letter that it is looking at creating a loan scheme for those experiencing hardship. My concern is that means people will continue to incur more debt in an environment in which people are already paying exorbitant prices for airfares to try to get back here. There is no clear assessment for how people can logically be considered for coming back. I keep getting these cases brought to my attention. For example, a really sad case came through to me today of a couple—I will not go into their personal circumstances—who are 20 minutes from the South Australian border. They can come and go from South Australia because there has not been one case of COVID in the country town they are in, but they have been forbidden from coming back home to Western Australia and their jobs. They were over there for tragic circumstances and they need to be able to get back, but there is no rhyme nor reason given for why they cannot be considered to get back home. They have already suffered enough, and they need to be able to do that.
We need to make sure that we improve our hotel quarantine regime for those people who do get here, if they ever do. There is no reason for it to be as hard as it is. Can we just take Christmas Island off the table? It is not good enough for refugees, I have to say—the Greens have been consistent on that—and it is not good enough for Western Australian citizens and residents either. That was a ludicrous suggestion and one that needs to be immediately abandoned. If people have disability or special needs, or if they have serious mental health issues, they need to have a mechanism by which to declare that before they arrive in Western Australia.
Hon Alannah MacTiernan interjected.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I have limited time.
They then need to have that considered. If people must be quarantined in a hotel, anyone who has been flagged prior to arrival as having special needs should be assessed within a 24-hour period for suitability for home quarantine. It is not happening. People say it is, but it is just not happening. Stop saying it is, because it is not true. In the meantime, while they are being assessed in that 24-hour period, they need to be in appropriate accommodation. That means that they need to be in a room that is accessible for people with disabilities, if that is the issue. Older children in particular need the option of having their own room adjoining their parents, and should not necessarily be stuck in with their parents for the entire two weeks. Rooms need to be large enough to accommodate people for a fortnight. They need to have comfortable chairs, for example. Also, in WA we need to start looking at accommodation that has a balcony. It is not an unreasonable expectation. We also need to implement proper risk assessment to look at whether people are suitable for home quarantine. At the moment, there does not appear to be any consistency in how that is looked at. A lot of people could easily be quarantined safely at home and would pose no risk, but that is not being considered in any meaningful way. That would free up space for other people to stay in hotel quarantine.
On the basic issue of food, we need to stop charging compulsory fees for food. People need to be able to do basic things such as order from the regular menu. They need to be able to take deliveries from supermarkets or Uber Eats, or get fast food if they want. People need to be able to bring care packages in and not have them searched. People are allowed to have fundamental privacies with the care packages. Quite frankly, if people want to have sex toys brought into their hotels, that is their business. These people are not prisoners. They are allowed to have whatever they want in the privacy of their own rooms. We should not be stopping people from getting alcohol if they want, because alcohol is legal and adults are allowed to drink. If they can drink at home, they should be able to drink in their hotel room. Also, people need to be able to get basic things such as a microwave, a sandwich press, a toaster, cutlery and crockery. Children need to be able to access education—there have been problems with people being able to liaise with schools while they have been in hotel quarantine. It has been very hit and miss. There has been no consistency with access to basic health services and pharmaceuticals. These are basic things, and we can change this. It is up to the government to do this. It does not have to be as difficult as it is at the moment.