A tribute to Territorians responding to the Coronavirus

February 26, 2020

STATEMENTS BY SENATORS - Coronavirus - SPEECH - Wednesday, 26 February 2020

I would like to pay tribute to my constituency of the Northern Territory, including Christmas Island, who know how to step up in times of great need in helping fellow Australians impacted by coronavirus. Residents of the Northern Territory, especially those around Darwin and Alice Springs and on Christmas Island, have shown the generous spirit of stepping up in times of crisis, which we are seeing continue across the globe with this coronavirus. The first group of Australian evacuees from Wuhan were housed on Christmas Island, which is part of the Northern Territory federal electorate of Lingiari. Rigorous screening for the virus took place before, during and after the flights, and those Australians on Christmas Island are now safely home.

I'd like to put on the parliamentary record assurances that I've been given around the novel coronavirus, especially now that the former INPEX accommodation in Howard Springs, south of Darwin is being used as a quarantine site. Every precaution is being taken to ensure public safety. I was briefed by the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, in the lead-up to the evacuees arriving at the Howard Springs site, and expressed to him the need to make sure also that First Nations and migrant communities were included in all of those communications. I thank the minister and his staff for what they've done in this circumstance. The Northern Territory's chief health officer confirmed that the Darwin community will not be impacted by this cohort being quarantined in Darwin, and that is what we have seen so far.

The first 266 Australians evacuated from Wuhan have now completed their 14-day quarantine and returned to their own communities. Many of those 266 Australians who left the Howard Springs facility on Sunday spoke to the media about their experiences, and I share with the Senate what Brian Leung said:

Initially, I had my concerns about being in the facility … but the people here have been really supportive and really lovely.

Fellow evacuee Zilong Long said:

… it was like a small vacation for me and my family.

Abigail Trewin from AUSMAT said:

… we're just so pleased that everyone is well, happy and able to return to their home states.

Colin Drysdale of Australian Border Force said:

… our guests have displayed fantastic levels of resilience, community spirit and optimism throughout their stay. They have been wonderful guests.

I'd like to congratulate the Australian government agencies working well together in this instance—the ADF, Border Force and AUSMAT, the Northern Territory staff and all who were involved. In particular, I would like to commend the work of the Australian Medical Assistance Team, AUSMAT, and the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, based in Darwin, who are providing immediate medical responses to the Australians in the facility.

Prior to evacuees arriving on Christmas Island, I was able to visit the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, which sent over an AUSMAT team of 24 to set up a field hospital for the Australians on Christmas Island. I was certainly left in no doubt as to the professionalism and the expertise of the team in providing that care. Visiting the incredible facilities, which are located near the Darwin airport, was also an opportunity for me to meet with some of the staff as they took me around to have a look at the facilities and their preparation in the lead-up to going to Christmas Island. I received a briefing from Executive Director Len Notaras. I thank them for their time, especially given the seriousness of the situation and the urgency in which they had to respond.

Howard Springs is currently housing 152 Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess who will be there until 5 March. Seven evacuees have tested positive to coronavirus from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and they've now been transferred to their home states. Northern Territory acting chief health officer, Dianne Stephens, said the patients were not seriously ill. She said:

Those people remain well and are mildly ill with cold-like symptoms. They do not necessarily need to be in the hospital system but more than likely will enter the hospital system in their home states while they manage the Covid-19 quarantine and procedures.

The general response from the Northern Territory community has been: why shouldn't we be helping our fellow Australians while protecting the community? Naturally, there were questions of concern in the beginning and, again, the coordination of the team of professionals based in Darwin has been able to allay any concerns, along with the Northern Territory government and the health minister in the Northern Territory. The virus is spread only through close contact. It means neighbouring facilities will not be affected, as the virus is droplet based and not airborne.

On that note, I'd like to remind the Senate that this is an important time and I thank the people of the Northern Territory and Christmas Island.

The PRESIDENT: It being 2 pm, we will move to questions without notice, and I call Senator Wong.