MICHAEL OUTRAM: But I have to say that having seen the criticisms and the commentary that’s been levelled against, not just my organisation the Australian Border Force, but my officers more particularly. I think it’s important that I come out here today to clarify some actual facts and give you some more detail and people can then make their own minds up about exactly what happened, or didn’t happen, in respect to the Ruby Princess.
The first thing I would say is, of course, that our role at the Australian border is not an amorphous concept. We have legislative responsibilities and functions, and we work with other agencies that have similar responsibilities and functions. The Australian Border Force, of course we’re responsible primarily for the Customs Act, contraband, and for the Migration Act, for making sure that people that arrive at Australia have got a visa that allows them to do so. We work very, very closely of course with the Department of Agriculture who have the biosecurity function for human biosecurity.
So, let’s talk about a cruise ship in that context when it comes in to port. So, when a ship comes into port there are basically three red lights. They all have to go green before passengers or crew can disembark that vessel. The first red light is the Customs Act responsibility – is anyone carrying contraband off that vessel? We’re responsible for that in the Australian Border Force. The second red light that has to go green is the migration light – do all the crew and passengers have visas and passports that entitle them to come to Australia? The third light that has to go green is the human biosecurity light. The functions and responsibility for making that go green lie with the Department of Agriculture at the Commonwealth level, the biosecurity officers, working in conjunction with state and territory health departments. We in the Border Force do not have expertise in health or in biosecurity.
So I’ll now lead you through some facts about the events around the Ruby Princess. The Ruby Princess departed Sydney on 8 March 2020 on a round-trip journey to New Zealand. They went by Napier, New Zealand and it arrived back of course in Sydney on about 19 March.
On 17 March 2020 New South Wales Health requested the following information from the Ruby Princess’ senior doctor – estimates on arrival into Sydney, a log of details of passengers and crew presenting with fever or acute respiratory symptoms or both, travel histories, and whether rapid flu test was conducted and the results. They requested that any passengers or crew with flu-like illnesses were isolated, and provided with hand rubs and masks, and that an announcement be made.
On 18 March at 0939 hours in the morning, the senior doctor on the Ruby Princess notified New South Wales Health Department of the following: Ruby Princess had collected viral swabs for a few cases of febrile influenza – negative tests – and that those people had been isolated. They also requested an ambulance transfer for a couple of passengers who had other unrelated illnesses.