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Well, Australians stranded overseas have been handed a lifeline with Qantas and Virgin to operate mercy flights out of four international hubs. Travellers are being told to get themselves to London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and also Auckland with the carriers agreeing to keep the flight routes open, I should say, in a deal struck by the Government. For more now, let's bring in Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack who joins us via Skype from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. Deputy Prime Minister, thank you for your time. This is a really important breakthrough. How long do you think these flights will be running for and how many Australians do you expect might take them up?
Senator Marise Payne, the Foreign Affairs Minister and I, have arranged for it to happen for four weeks. Look, we'll judge it according to the need. We'll judge it according to how the COVID-19 virus is faring elsewhere overseas and of course, even how many people need to come home, want to come home. This has been many weeks in the making. The Prime Minister did call for Australians who were overseas to come home and obviously we were concerned about how many thousands of people actually left our shores and went overseas despite that call and even after that call. Yet, we need Australians home. If they want to come home, they're going to have the best health care here. As we've seen elsewhere overseas, it is a calamity. The situation overseas is far worse than what we're experiencing here in Australia now.
Deputy Prime Minister, you mentioned those Australians who left after that edict came down, not to travel abroad. The number was quite staggering in the end. I think 16,000-odd who flouted that advice. The Government has agreed to underwrite any loss for the airlines. Do you have an idea yet just how much this will cost taxpayers?
Look we don’t, but obviously people who are wanting to board those flights will have to pay for the flights but we will underwrite anything that is a cost to either Virgin or Qantas. We've made that assurance. We want to get Australians home as best we can and as soon as we can. Of course, we might offset the cost as well by sending out exports in the belly of those planes. Of course, there are a number of agricultural producers who have had their markets stripped bare by COVID-19 so, if there's an opportunity to send some goods out, as we so often do. We produce enough food here in Australia for 75 million people, that's three times our population, so if we can do that for our farmers and for our producers, then that will be a good thing too.
Are we still producing enough quantities of produce to actually get out to these areas? Will it work? Will these planes be full?
Indeed they will. Look we will work very closely with the National Farmers' Federation. I’ve spoken to Fiona Simpson about that as well as many other organisations. This has, as I've said, taken many weeks to organise, to set up. I would urge those Australians who've got family members abroad who need and want to come home, to have a look at both Qantas and Virgin's websites, to have a look at australia.gov.au, even to register their interest with the embassies overseas. Australian embassies overseas.
It will be a relief to so many Australians. Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, thank you for your time.
Thank you Matthew.
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