COVID-19: Updates from Acting Minister of Home Affairs

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On Friday, 6 November, Acting Minister of Home Affairs Alan Tudge held a press conference to discuss various immigration and COVID-19 matters that are in the news.

Below is a summary of what was said, starting with border restrictions.

Domestic and international border restrictions

Australia’s internal border closures are slowly easing. Western Australia opened its borders to travellers on the 14th of November. The borders will stay open provided Western Australia maintain its low COVID-19 rate. Further to this, New South Wales is opening to Victoria on the 23rd of November.

With these borders opening, Australia will be close to having completely open borders again by the end of November. Queensland is the last significant state that hasn’t made any decision yet with regards to borders closures.

When it comes to international borders, the Government is continuing with efforts to open borders slowly and safely. It has done the following so far:

  • Allowing temporary skilled migrants into the country on a priority listing
  • There is a travel bubble arrangement with New Zealand. The Government is also in talks with some of the Pacific nations, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea to create similar travel bubbles.

Getting all Australians home for Christmas

Minister Tudge confirmed that it is the Government’s intention to get more than 20,000 Australians still stuck outside of the country home for Christmas. Their plan is to prioritise those Australians and to have flights available for Australian who want to return home.

This is a mammoth effort that’ll require the Government to coordinate flights, coordinate quarantine systems, working with the airlines, and working with states and territories to coordinate the return of citizens.

Letting skilled migrants into the country

As already mentioned, Australia is allowing skilled migrants into the country on a priority skills list. This list includes 17 occupations mainly in the health and mining sectors. The Department of Home Affairs has already said that it will continue to review the occupations on the list.

The Government has also published their migration numbers for the 2020-21 migration year in the Federal Budget that was delivered in October. There were significant changes especially in the skilled migrant category.

Accepting international students

Australia values international students and their contribution to the country and as such the Government want to continue accepting international students. It has to be done carefully and steadily though considering the pandemic. In a normal year, Australia welcomes around 185,000 international students but this is impossible at the moment due to limited quarantine facilities being available.

Travelling to Australia in 2021 and after

The Australian Government hopes to have a digital visa system in place by the middle of next year. This development will include an update to the incoming passenger card system. At the moment, this is a physical copy but the Government wants to create a digital passenger card.

Going digital means a more efficient travel experience but also ensure more integrity. A digital system will also enable travellers to digitally staple their vaccination certificate to their passenger card.

The ultimate goal is to enable travel and immigration to Australia to return to normal levels.

Rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine

Minister Tudge said during the press conference that he’s optimistic that vaccines that work will be available next year. He continued to say that it’s likely that health workers and the elderly will be prioritized when it comes to the distribution of the vaccines.

AUD10,million towards a COVID mental health campaign

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many people facing mental health issues and needing support. The Government has already allocated additional funds to fighting mental health issues and has also increased the number of Medicare counselling sessions that a person can get from 10 to 20.

In the first week of October, the Government announced that its allocating a further AUD10,000 to a COVID mental health campaign called How’s Your Head Today? The aim of the campaign is to ask people how they’re doing, reduce any stigma about seeking mental health support, and encouraging people to reach out and get help.

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To read the full transcript of press conference held by Minister Tudge, click here.

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