Yesterday, Anthony Albanese, federal Leader of the Opposition again shared “Labor’s plan to Beat COVID-19”. The plan in full is here, but the short version is:
Build new quarantine facilities and expand existing facilities in every state and territory – because it’s time to end the blame game and be a true partner with the states and territories.
Fix the vaccine rollout and expand mobile and mass vaccination clinics to get as many Australians vaccinated as quickly as possible. We would stop the excuses and get everyone who lives and works in aged or disability care vaccinated. We have the doses and we know where they are. There’s simply no excuse for the delay.
Start a mass public information campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated, and start a process for considering incentives to achieve that aim.
Begin manufacturing mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer, right here in Australia. This virus isn’t going away and when it comes to beating it, we need to be able to stand on our own two feet.
What the plan doesn’t address is Australia’s international borders, which have been essentially closed for more than a year now, with citizens and permanent residents not permitted to leave, and only citizens and permanent residents (termed “returning travellers”) allowed to enter, completing two weeks hotel quarantine on their return. There are (very low) weekly caps on the number of arrivals, and there are still tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas and trying to get home.
On Sunday night, I called my parents in the UK. It was for our weekly catch up, but mainly it was because it was Fathers Day in the UK and I wanted to call my Dad. I haven’t seen my parents or my sister or my nephew for almost two years because of the pandemic, and it’s becoming increasingly distressing for all of us. Being forcefully separated from family, especially when we are a close family, is distressing.
During the conversation, Dad asked me how many Australians had family overseas. I said I didn’t know, but figured the proportion must be pretty high, and I guessed at around 20 to 30%. I was wrong. I looked it up yesterday, and according to this article in the Guardian, in 2017, 49% of Australian’s population was either born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas. That’s half of Australia, presumably with some family overseas. Half of everyone in Australia has had their family split up indefinitely because of Australia’s border policy.
But it goes further. It must. More than half when you consider Australians who have children overseas, Australians whose spouses are overseas, Australians whose siblings, niblings, and piblings are overseas. It’s staggering just how many of our families are affected. The majority of people in Australia are personally affected by Australia’s border policy. And this is why, given that the border policy has been such an important part of Australia’s COVID response, it’s distressing that Anthony Albanese and his Labor Party offers nothing in his COVID response plan.
Labor is a party I have supported in the past, and is a party I wish I could support now, but it’s a party that offers no support to me, and no support to the millions of Australians affected by Australia’s border policy. All they offer is super-enhanced immigration detention for returning Australians, but no vision on when, if ever, we may be able to see out families again.
We can’t leave – we’re not allowed to – and there’s no indication in Albanese’s so-called plan as to when we might be able to. And there’s no mention of if, when, or how we might look at beginning to open our borders again and how we can increase the number of arrivals without a significant COVID risk, so even when we are allowed to leave, this “plan” means it would be just as difficult to get back home as it is today.
We’re offered no hope. None at all. A majority of Australians offered nothing. We can see around the world, after a year of watching our families and friends die or be left seriously ill from this disease, that mass vaccination is working. In some of the places that saw some of the worst COVID disasters, mass vaccination is facilitating travel within and across international borders. But Albanese’s plan for Australia is still to keep the foreigners out, and lock everyone else up in immigration detention on arrival. That’s not a plan. Or if it is, it’s a plan that insults at more than half of everyone in Australia. It’s cruel and unnecessary, improves nothing, costs a lot, and leaves us in exactly the same position we are today: stagnant and cut off from the world. As Julia Gillard put it, in what was probably her most famous speech as Prime Minister, “we are entitled to a better standard than this”.
A plan that insults the majority of Australians and leaves us cut off indefinitely from our families may well see Labor lose the next election. And unless they change, I hope they do – not because I want to see continuing Liberal/National government: I hate those fuckers even more. But I need Labor to see that they can’t just be Not The Other Guys. They can’t offer us literally nothing and expect us to vote for it. And if they do lose the next election, I hope they look back and ask themselves if their “plan” to keep half of Australians cut off from their families for no good reason was really the visionary policy they thought it was.