Minister grilled over airport ‘embarrassment’


Today host Karl Stefanovic has grilled federal tourism minister Simon Birmingham over crowds of international arrivals ignoring social distancing rules at Sydney Airport yesterday, branding the scenes an "international embarrassment".

A video, filmed at Sydney Airport yesterday by voice coach Sally Prosser, showed huge crowds of people close together in the arrivals section.

"The government has asked us, pleaded with us, made laws surrounding our movements, most of us have complied and done the right thing," Stefanovic said.

"Then we have a situation like yesterday at the International Airport in Sydney where all those rules are broken and thrown out the window. What an embarrassment."


Mr Birmingham said it was a "reminder of how tough the job is at every single level to make sure that we are applying these principles of social distancing".

"What we saw yesterday, at Sydney Airport, a change in terms of the practices, more stringent testing on people as they arrived, but that then requires a change in other practices that flows through.

"It falls upon every single one of us, at state level, at federal level, and right across the community, to keep working to get this right, to maintain that 1.5 to 2m distance from one another so that we can slow the spread of this virus."

But Stefanovic pressed on, calling the scenes at the border in Sydney yesterday an "international embarrassment".

"It's inappropriate," the minister began, before Stefanovic cut him off, saying: "It's not inappropriate. It's grossly negligent."

"So this morning when people arrive from overseas that won't happen?" the Today host asked.

Mr Birmingham said he trusted that the Australian Border Force, health authorities and overseas arrivals have now "got the message".

"They are now overwhelmingly Australians, because we have effectively shut off the borders in terms of new arrivals from anywhere around the world and this is purely about Australians returning home," he said.

"They need to hear the message loud and clear, keep your distance from one another. All Australians do. The plan is very clear. That is to slow the spread of this virus so we save lives."

Yesterday Ms Prosser, who took the footage, said it came as a kick in the guts.

She said when she asked Australian Border Force staff why social distancing wasn't being enforced in the crowd of arrivals, she was told, "Not our problem, that's biosecurity."

"I just feel like it was a real kick in the guts to everyone out there doing the right thing," Ms Prosser said.

"At the frontline, there's nothing, there's no-one even encouraging people to stand apart."

People breaking social distancing guidelines in NSW could be fined or face jail time under new laws.

People are also urged to avoid physical greetings such as handshaking, hugs and kisses, use tap and pay instead of cash, travel at quiet times and avoid crowds.

Returning travellers still make up the largest proportion of coronavirus infections, both from cruise ships and air travel.

Meanwhile, ABF Commissioner Michael Outram addressed criticism of the agency over the Ruby Princess disaster, pointing the finger at NSW Health and the federal Agriculture Department, which he said was responsible for "human biosecurity".

One Twitter user commented on Ms Prosser's video, "Why are international arrivals still able to come in? We can't leave but people can flood in still? No distancing, no checks, no tests - is Border Farce completely incompetent? First cruise ships, now this."

Another said, "Oh but it's OK, they're all going straight home to 14 days of isolation, without stopping at Woolies to buy food, or to see their mates or families. Because clearly we can trust them all to do the right thing."

The Morrison Government has emphasised the need for returning travellers to immediately self-isolate for 14 days regardless of whether or not they feel ill.

"We will not tolerate anybody putting the community at risk as a returned traveller," Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said on Sunday.

"People coming back from some countries - and you know which ones they are - have a high risk now of carrying the coronavirus and they are the people who've largely led to the spread of the virus in our community over the recent weeks.

"So, returned travellers, please, stay at home. Don't go anywhere on the way from the airport or the cruise ship or wherever you are from."

Originally published as Minister grilled over airport 'embarrassment'

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