Scott Morrison has apologised for erroneously claiming Kevin Rudd had been travelling outside Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, with the former Labor leader claiming the Prime Minister had “misled parliament”.
Mr Rudd blasted the Mr Morrison for spouting “utter falsehoods” about his travel itinerary, in a blistering statement following a fiery Question Time on Monday.
“I have subsequently been advised that Mr Rudd has not travelled internationally during the pandemic… I also apologise to Mr Rudd for the statement and am pleased to correct the record,” the PM said in a statement to the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
It comes as fallout continues over the errors that allowed two German nationals to skip quarantine in Sydney, with a federal minister demanding New South Wales ‘do better’ as red-faced police admit even their beefed-up procedures might still see travellers leak through COVID safety nets.
Mr Morrison had slammed Labor over a “cowardly” attack on the nation’s hotel quarantine system, amid criticism about former Liberal politicians allowed to skirt the rules the rest of us have to follow.
The curious case of two German nationals wrongly allowed to fly to Melbourne after arriving in Sydney barely featured in federal Parliament on Monday, but the broader issue of hotel quarantine and travel exemptions set off an unexpected stoush between Mr Rudd and Mr Morrison.
Labor’s deputy leader Richard Marles used question time to attack the PM over an unfulfilled promise to get all overseas Australians home by Christmas.
Mr Marles asked why former Liberal leaders like Tony Abbott and Alexander Downer had been allowed to travel in and out of the country, when thousands of Australians remain stranded overseas due to caps on airport arrivals and quarantine spaces.
Mr Morrison glared back at the Labor side, claiming the Opposition was focusing on “politics of negativity”, after lobbing a bomb of his own.
“Why [Mr Marles] would want to bring personalities into this, given that Mr Rudd has done the same thing, surprises me,” the PM said.
Mr Morrison added that travel exemptions had been granted at arm’s length from the government by the Australian Border Force.
“If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition … wants to attack the integrity of the Border Force commissioner – he should get up and he should do it and not be doing this in the cowardly way he is doing in this place,” the PM thundered.
Two hours later, Mr Rudd fired back, claiming the PM was wrong and that he hadn’t even left Queensland – let alone Australia – since the pandemic took hold.
Morrison claimed in the parliament today that I have obtained exemptions to travel in and out of Australia, taking quarantine places from other Australians. That is an utter falsehood. I haven't left Queensland since March. Morrison has misled the parliament & he should apologise pic.twitter.com/O7x6l3Q3qq
— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) December 7, 2020
“This is an utter falsehood by Mr Morrison. I have not left Australia since returning home from New York in March,” the former PM said.
“The Morrison government’s own records will prove this.”
Mr Rudd said he had been doing his work remotely, instead of travelling worldwide like he normally would, and called for Mr Morrison to apologise.
On Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister’s office told The New Daily that Mr Morrison had written to the House of Representatives’ clerk to ask for the record to be corrected, with the statement – containing an apology over the incorrect claim – included in Monday’s official hansard record.
Social media furore that George Brandis – former senator and now Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom – had been allowed to skip quarantine has also been rubbished.
Mr Brandis was spotted hustling through Canberra airport on Monday, setting off rumours he had received an exemption.
But in a statement to TND, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said Mr Brandis had actually arrived in Australia on November 20, and had completed the mandatory 14-day quarantine at his arrival point.
He then travelled on to Canberra after being released.
German pair are Australian citizens
Broader issues around hotel quarantine were exposed over the weekend by the case of two arrivals from Germany, who were allowed to skip isolation in Sydney and travel on to Melbourne.
The mystery was further unravelled on Monday, with confirmation the pair were actually Australian citizens – not tourists.
The 53-year old woman and her 15-year-old son landed in Sydney on Saturday, but despite Melbourne being their final destination, they should have been held in two weeks quarantine in NSW.
Instead, a police officer in Sydney erroneously allowed them to travel on a crowded commercial flight to Melbourne, with the bungle only discovered by an airport worker in Victoria.
NSW Police admitted the mistake was theirs.
It’s understood part of the issue was that the German pair had mistakenly been given boarding passes and checked in to all flights on their journey from Europe, and the police officer took that as proof they didn’t need to quarantine in Sydney.
The mother and son were described by police as “German nationals”, while various media outlets have referred to them by other citizenship statuses, leading to confusion over why they were allowed in at all.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said he had “asked the very same question myself”.
“I’m advised that there is a mother who is an Australian citizen and her son is a German-born Australian citizen. So they are both still returning Australian citizens,” he told the ABC on Monday.
Senator Birmingham defended the “challenging task” facing the nation’s hotel quarantine system, with an “enormous volume” of some 400,000 people this year.
But he did have criticism for NSW, saying its framework needed attention.
“We’ve been working with the states and territories to make sure that they tighten those processes, and obviously further tightening is required in NSW,” the senator said.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, speaking on 2GB radio, said officers would now “triple check” travel exemptions, with a senior officer to review any applications. However, he said it wouldn’t be infallible.
“We have put an additional step in place for those who are on travelling … but I can’t promise we won’t make mistakes, but my job is also to make sure we minimise opportunities,” Mr Fuller said.
How can the Federal Health Minister claim two German nationals were picked up in "rings of containment within the quarantine and border system" when they were found in public areas of Melbourne Airport?
Hardly a "fail-safe" system and more about Government spin. #auspol pic.twitter.com/kwIQijaLUQ
— Lisa Chesters MP (@LMChesters) December 7, 2020
The federal Labor party has not gone on the full attack over the quarantine flub, but MP Lisa Chesters – Member for Bendigo – slammed the error, and subsequent explanations from Health Minister Greg Hunt.