April 4th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The world has changed: Now for the new order

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Move to curtail underage online porn epidemic

CANBERRA OBSERVED ScoMo's delicate balancing act in extraordinary times

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Time and timing are crucial to Cardinal Pell's appeal by Peter Westmore

NEW ZEALAND Political divisions polarise across the Ditch

NEW ZEALAND Victorian Road Map smooths way of NZ anti-life clique to abortion 'reform'

FREE SPEECH Intolerance brigade at UQ attacks professor of Law

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Victoria lifts moratorium of gas exploration

CHINESE HISTORY The Soong Dynasty: Three sisters who rules China

LAW AND SOCIETY Guilt by accusation: The kangaroos are roaming freely through Australia's legal system

GENDER POLITICS Dr Quentin Van Meter's Australian talk is opening eyes in the U.S.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Australia is not safe in the borderless globalised world

SHOPPING AND SOCIETY The Ubermensch in the aisles

MUSIC We seem to have lost the point of counterpoint

CINEMA The Current War: Industrial miracle workers

BOOK REVIEW A dark trade that continues unabated worldwide

EBOOK READ THIS Both sides to this old story



NATIONAL AFFAIRS Use detention centres to help deal with covid19 epidemic

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Justice at last: Cardinal Pell set free

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Use detention centres to help deal with covid19 epidemic

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 4, 2020

Having put in place a range of emergency measures to deal with the covid19 epidemic, the measured response of the Commonwealth and state governments – meeting as a national cabinet – is beginning to show results, as the increase in the number of confirmed cases has slowed down.

The crew of the Ruby Princess, above, and passengers
and crew from other cruise ships anchored
offshore Australia could be safely isolated at any
of Australia’s detention centres.

If this trend continues, emergency and intensive-care wards in Australia will be able to handle the number of cases that emerge, unlike the situation in many other countries.

This is not to say that the crisis is over, far from it. But the restrictions that governments have imposed on tourism, mass gatherings, sporting events and the hospitality industry are beginning to bring the crisis under control, as documented on Juliette O’Brien’s website, covid19data.com.au

One area of wide concern that has not been dealt with is the fate of the thousands of people, mainly crew, on cruise ships around Australia. Australia has an opportunity here to show practical compassion that would be an example for the rest of the world, as well as meeting our international obligations to seafarers in distress.

At least eight cruise ships are currently docked or offshore in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.



Following the Ruby Princess fiasco, where over two thousand cruise ship passengers were allowed to disembark at Circular Quay unchecked, leading to an upsurge in confirmed cases around Australia, state governments have banned the disembarkation of crew or passengers from cruise ships, except in emergencies.

However understandable, this res­ponse does nothing to solve the very real health problems facing thou­sands of people who are exposed to the high likelihood of contracting the disease. The experience of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, a month ago, is revealing.

As a result of a decision to refuse to allow passengers and crew to leave the cruise ship, over 700 passengers and hundreds of the crew contracted covid19 on board, which highlights the futility of this response.

There is a way for Australia to help with this problem. It involves the use of the detention centres that were established around Australia to deal with the influx of boat people some years ago but that are now largely empty.

Immigration detention centres provide basic but secure temporary accommodation, and should be used as centres in which cruise ship crew and any remaining passengers spend their quarantine period in Australia, before being returned to their home countries.

Apart from the well-known Christ­mas Island Detention Centre, located in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia, there are detention centres in each of the Australian states except Tasmania.

Additionally, the Department of Home Affairs also manages Immig­ration Residential Housing Centres, Immigration Transit Accommodation Centres and Alternative Places of Detention, which could be used to provide additional accommodation.

At maximum capacity, these centres are able to hold tens of thousands of people, far more than the number of people currently detained on cruise ships around Australia.

It is far easier to control the spread of disease in these centres than on cruise ships, which are incubators for covid19, and they afford far better medical facilities than those available on cruise ships, with access to hospital care if necessary.

Once passengers have spent their 14 days in detention without infection, it is then safe for those who come from overseas to be repatriated.

Just as the Australian Government has taken responsibility for the repat­riation of Australians marooned in China and South America during the covid19 epidemic, it is reasonable to expect that other governments – including European and North American – would take responsibility for their own nationals, who could then safely return home, free of the disease.

Those who require hospital care in Australia should be given it, before repatriation.

With hundreds of thousands of Australians now unemployed as a result of the covid19 lockdown, there is a readily available workforce to make this happen.

The financial cost to Australia of acting decisively and compassionately to assist those stranded on cruise ships around the Australian coast would be minimal, particularly compared with the hundreds of billions of dollars currently being spent by state and federal governments to reduce the impact of the covid19 pandemic in Australia.

It would be a striking example of both the Christian virtue of compassion and the Australian virtue of mateship at a time when these are desperately needed.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm