Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to media in Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to media in Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

Premier’s urgent virus warning to PM

EXCLUSIVE

Scott Morrison was warned that COVID-19 contact tracers urgently needed airlines to keep more data on travellers in January but failed to secure agreement on the mandated collection of information for travellers until today's national cabinet.

Correspondence obtained by news.com.au confirms that Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk wrote to the Prime Minister on January 31, just days after the first confirmed case in Australia on the "matter of national importance".

As the states dealt with the influx of international passengers, they were shocked to learn that incoming travellers' passenger cards were essentially thrown in the bin or unable to be accessed on privacy grounds.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to media in Sydney on Friday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to media in Sydney on Friday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

 

In the letter, the Queensland Premier warned the Prime Minister that the states' ability to respond to the emerging public health crisis would be greatly assisted "if your government, as the primary recipient of information concerning people entering Australia, could undertake to contact anyone considered at-risk".

"It is important that in times such as these we work together to respond quickly and effectively to minimise the potential risk this emerging public health issue poses to our community," she wrote.

The correspondence also asked the Morrison Government to share information with the states about arrivals from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

At the time, a second person who was in a Chinese tour group in Queensland had tested positive to the deadly virus.

Speaking on Sunrise in late January, Ms Palaszczuk said the State Government needed the Federal Government to provide the contact details and any information about others who had travelled from Hubei province in the past 14 days.

"The tour group that arrived, they arrived in Melbourne," Ms Palaszczuk said.

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pleaded for help from the PM in January. Picture: NewsWire / John Gass
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pleaded for help from the PM in January. Picture: NewsWire / John Gass

 

"Only the Federal Government has the details on their incoming boarding card of who they are, where they are staying and their mobile phone contact numbers.

"We need to contact those people. I don't know at the moment in Queensland where people from the Hubei province currently are because the Federal Government has that information."

Ultimately, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the full Tigerair manifest, including emails, contact numbers and other known details of all the passengers was given to the Queensland Government.

But despite the pleas of state leaders since January, the mandatory collection of data on domestic flight has taken more than six months to finalise.

Privacy laws have proved a minefield for public servants to navigate, with the Morrison Government forced to find "work arounds" to provide contact details on international travellers while the collection of information on domestic flights was even worse.

The Prime Minister confirmed the new arrangements today for the mandatory data collection on domestic flights to assist states and territories when it comes to contact tracing.

"From 1 October, part of the mandatory manifest information will be name, email address, a mobile contact number, and a state of residence,'' Mr Morrison said.

 

 

"There's still some work to be done there. That will be arranged with the major airlines, with the Department of Infrastructure, and those arrangements are being put in place now.

"Now, that is just simply to help our state and territory agencies in the contact tracing that they may be required to do, when it comes to tracking when people are moving from state to state, and that information will, of course, be treated sensitively by the states and territories in the same way that public health information is always treated."

Speaking today after the national cabinet, the Queensland Premier said she was delighted with the breakthrough.

"The other issue I've been raising for quite some time is the manifest on domestic flights,'' she said.

"Since early February, we have been painstakingly trying to get information from airlines to help with our contract tracing. Finally we had some breakthrough today and there has been an agreement that if we do need contract tracing, the details will be given to the states to assist with that. As I said, we've been asking since February. So a very productive meeting and I'm happy to take some questions."

 

Originally published as Premier's urgent virus warning to PM


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