Australians evacuated from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China will no longer be charged $1,000, with the Treasurer blaming “incorrect advice” from bureaucrats for the mix-up.
- Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Government would not be seeking to recover costs for evacuees’ flights
- He blamed DFAT for providing incorrect advice
- An hour earlier, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said it was appropriate for the Government to recover some costs
Josh Frydenberg said the Government would not be seeking to recover the cost of the Qantas flights from China to Christmas Island, contradicting statements given by senior ministers and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) in recent days.
“They’re not going to be charged,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“It’s very clear that the advice that we got originally was incorrect.”
That statement was at odds with the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton who, an hour an earlier, told Sky News it was appropriate for the Government to recover at least some of the costs.
“There is a precedent I’m advised from DFAT, that in circumstances before people have paid an amount of money and the fact is, it’s a chartered flight and there’ll be a significant expense to the Australian taxpayer,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg blamed DFAT for the mix-up, saying the agency had provided incorrect information about the “commercial arrangements” used in previous international evacuations.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs have said publicly that they provided the incorrect information originally, particularly about the arrangements in place when people came out of Cairo during the Arab Spring,” he said.
Details of evacuation expected ‘soon’
It is still unclear when the first flight will leave for China with Mr Frydenberg confirming Australia was still seeking permission from Beijing.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said the process of evacuating Australians from Wuhan was being planned and would be finalised “soon”.
“We are continuing the planning and the arrangements for the assisted departure of Australians from Wuhan,” Senator Payne said.
“We expect that process to be finalised and finally agreed soon and we are proceeding on that basis. We have approached this assisted departure operation very carefully with an absolute priority on the health and the safety of all Australians. Here at home and overseas.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Saturday that Australia would deny entry to people who have left or transited through mainland China from February 1, on the advice of chief medical officers.
Exceptions will be made for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family, as well as air crews who have been using appropriate personal protective equipment.
Beijing has criticised a similar order from the United States which has barred entry to most foreigners who visited China in the past two weeks.
An official from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned governments they need to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” as China’s death toll from a new virus rose to 304.
Twelve people in Australia are confirmed to have the virus — four in NSW, four in Victoria, two in Queensland, and two in South Australia.
Two more Australians in China are confirmed to have been infected.
Australia has upgraded its travel advice to include of all mainland China to level four, and DFAT has asked all those returning to from country to self-isolate for 14 days.
On Saturday, Qantas announced it would be suspending all flights to mainland China from February 9 to March 29.
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