Morrison Government has failed stranded Australians

Pressure is building on the Morrison Government to rescue tens-of-thousands of Australians stranded abroad and unable to come home due to strict quarantine caps and limited (as well as costly) flight availability.

The situation worsened after Emirates suspended all flights from Dubai to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane owing to National Cabinet’s decision to reduce hotel quarantine capacity.

Fairfax summarised the farce over the weekend:

Ben Saul, professor of international law at Sydney University, says it’s hard to defend decisions to let in people like high-profile international sports stars at a time when so many citizens are stranded abroad. “If it’s so difficult to bring people home why are we letting in the Indian cricket team from the second most infected country in the world?” he asks. Victoria, too, has brought in 1200 tennis players and supporters for the Australian Open.

Saul accuses the government of lacking “political will to give appropriate weight to the citizen and human rights of Australians to return home to their own country”.

The bottlenecks for would-be returnees stem from the requirement for returning travellers to enter hotel quarantine, which is run by the states and territories. The availability of quarantine places in turn dictates the caps which states seek on the numbers of overseas arrivals. Those caps are agreed at national cabinet, then relayed to the airlines by the federal department of Infrastructure and Transport under Commonwealth air navigation regulations.

Yet the caps themselves are subject to arbitrary variation, as was demonstrated by last week’s decision to abruptly halve them for a month after panic set in among state premiers about the increased infectivity of the UK strain of the coronavirus…

The knock-on effect means another round of cancelled flights for those waiting to get back from enforced exile, and havoc for airline schedules…

“You hear the government saying they are doing all they can to get Aussies home – no they are not, they are not exploring every single avenue”, the source said. “There does not seem to be a level of want from government at any level to genuinely sit down with the industry and say, ‘Listen, we see this is an issue, we are thinking about trying these solutions, how does that work for you guys operationally?'”…

Labor’s Penny Wong says the country is “in this mess because … Scott Morrison, for whatever reason, did not want to take responsibility for national quarantine”.

In typical tokenistic fashion, the Morrison Government announced that it would charter a measly 20 flights between 31 January and 31 March in an effort to bring more people currently stranded overseas back to Australia:

Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham announced the plan on Saturday to get more Australians home on flights running between January 31 and March 31.

He told Sydney’s 2GB radio on Sunday the actual number of passengers will depend on the quarantine arrangements at the time…

“Importantly, these 20 facilitated flights the government will undertake will come in over and above the cap.”

It beggars belief how poorly stranded Australians have been treated by our governments, especially the federal government.

The federal government should have opened up federal quarantine facilities and chartered flights to pick them up six months ago (if not earlier).

Instead, the federal government passed the buck to the states and washed its hands of the process, effectively abandoning any responsibility.

The federal government must now charter as many flights as necessary to bring Australians home to federal quarantine facilities. In order to minimise risks to the community, these federal quarantine facilities should:

  • House international arrivals away from population centres (e.g. in regional army bases);
  • Utilise only highly trained and well paid staff;
  • Ensure these staff work in dedicated teams (to avoid cross-contamination) and remain on site throughout their deployment (similar to mining FIFO workers); and
  • Conduct regular testing of quarantine staff and guests.

The federal government is best placed to coordinate and fund both the repatriation of Australians and Australia’s quarantine effort. It also has constitutional responsibility for quarantine arrangements.

The Morrison Government must take control of the situation, not continue to pass the buck to the states.

It’s time for some national leadership, responsibility and accountability.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. Couldn’t agree more. A repeat of the bushfire farce but with a bit more spin. Govt only interested in avoiding responsibility (and hence blame if things go wrong), and couldn’t care less about Australian citizens whose only crime is not being rich enough to be able to afford first class / mega expensive flights.

  2. GunnamattaMEMBER

    I dont do Facebook, but my wife does – mainly to keep in touch with other stranded people. For those wondering my wife and daughter are OK, and safely in a friends apartment for free, but they now havent been home for circa 18 months and it is getting obviously tiring.

    The latest thing I am getting messaging about is that some people are not just paying $5-$8k to get a flight home, and then being clipped another $5 for quarantine, but are being bounced from these flights – as has happened with a few people on Emirates flights – and then (I think this is NOT the case with Emirates but another airline) being told that they will be credited for another flight rather than get a refund.

    Our government’s treatment of offshore Australians is an absolute disgrace

    • If you’re in a LNP seat, a $2000 donation to your local member will help bump people up the list.

      It’s perhaps not how Australia used to-, or should operate, but that’s how things are now.

    • Oh man, sorry to hear that. This government is useless.
      Its a kick in the face to Australians when movie starts and sport stars jump the queue.
      Remember “we are all in this together” they say.

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      I hear you
      I got the virus in March in the UK. After 10 days or so in bed I managed to get a Qatar Airways flight out of LHR to Brisbane via Doha. Of course I went straight into quarantine at the Westin. Thank God I didn’t get it later.
      Mind you, I obviously don’t look enough like Danii Minogue as, some time after I got out, I heard she (and no doubt a host of other “VIPs”) had waltzed through the airport and on to the mansion. Quarantine? If you’re rich & famous – no worries. I wonder who you have to ring to get the exemption?
      “I’m a celebrity – I’m not going there!”..

  3. Repatriate “Australians” or “Australian passport holders”. There’s a difference. If you have dual citizenship … and you are in the country where you also have a citizen ship well tough – I’d say DFAT doesn’t have to worry about you.

    We should have a tiered approach to helping “Australians” and it might encourage some to lose their other allegiances.

    What about all the “Australians” like Frank Lowy “stuck” in Israel after doing the aaliyah? They’re not stuck (note – I don’t know if they are clamouring to come to Aus anyway) but it is an example of folks who have made a decision to leave Aus and DFAT doesn’t really need to worry about them as they also have citizenship of the country they live in. Same goes for Indian-Australians in India, or Anglo-Australians in the UK.

    • GunnamattaMEMBER

      So that’d be the government line. It equates to there being 2 Classes of Australians.

      I am biased as my wife and daughter are dual passport holders (I am not). But that is what you are talking about. You are suggesting that if someone holds another passport then they dont count to Australia quite as much. OK, that may be the road we go. But there are some pretty compelling reasons to keep another passport – starting with (as in the case of my Mrs) what if you need to rush back in extremis to care for parents, after having made your home in Australia?

      Either they are Australians or they arent, is my view. If they are, bring them home if they want to be home.

      But if we as a nation are going the 2 class citizen route then we could probably do with a 2 or even 3 class option on lots of things – Medicare access, social welfare, education support, maybe even right to buy houses. Maybe we could work up a political system with 1st 2nd and 3rd class voting rights to go with it.

      • Not entirely.

        If you say have an Indian and Australian passport and in are Peru then same as an Australian passport holder. My caveat is when you are effectively resident in a country where you also have citizenship.

        My wife is English so I am also the only one in my family with only one passport. If we were in “trouble” in the UK then I wouldn’t expect the Australian govt to drop everything for them as notionally the UK government should ALSO be looking after their own.

        We expect our federal politicians to only have one passport and whilst I acknowledge the benefits of multiple passports I do question what that does for the “loyalties” of all Australians who have 2 (or more). In practice they will be higher loyalty to one country (or another). As one commentator wrote about Israeli-Americans “divided loyalties would be an improvement on the status quo” (my memory of the quote is hazy but implying that some passport holders have no loyalty to the US – the same would go for Aus).

        • peterbruceMEMBER

          Me too, in my opinion, I being a 4th generation Australian am a 2nd class citizen. When I travel OS I am just stuck with a crummy old Oz passport. For instance most of the English I know covet their British passport way more than their Australian
          When the revolution comes, all dual holders will have one month to decide which one they want,to keep, and then the deportations shall begin!!!!

    • Even StevenMEMBER

      I agree, Anon. Dual citizenship has always been a peculiarity that never sat comfortably with me. I don’t think they should exist. Pick your poison, not both.

      I don’t know enough about these “stranded” Australians to comment. Am I to understand that over the past 10 months they’ve truly had no opportunities to return? Or is just that NOW they’ve determined it is convenient to return and finding that options are limited and/or costly?

      My sympathy will very much depend upon the circumstances. I feel blanket statements are potentially ill-considered.

      But I stand by my views. You should be a citizen of one country only. Make your choice.

      • GunnamattaMEMBER

        Am I to understand that over the past 10 months they’ve truly had no opportunities to return? Or is just that NOW they’ve determined it is convenient to return and finding that options are limited and/or costly?

        They have had no opportunity to return. Even beyond that some of them have booked mega expensive flights and been bounced off them. Then maybe do the sums on how many flights have been run since late March and how many people could get on them.

        The idea that they havent returned because it isnt ‘convenient’ or because they didnt come back when told in March (and just consider for a moment how many Australians who were solidly employed somewhere – particularly the UK, Europe or North America – in March and have since lost their jobs as economies around the world went into meltdown) is is pretty much what the ScoMo species of Torynuff wants people to believe – that ‘they deserve it’

        As I mentioned above the dual citizenship discussion is potentially well worth having. But does that mean you treat some of our existing citizens as second class citizens?

        • Even StevenMEMBER

          Yes, I think we potentially treat an Australian dual citizen differently if they are currently in their ‘other’ citizenship country and afforded the rights and privileges of that country. As compared to an Australian who is currently in a country in which they are NOT afforded such privileges.

          Of course, I see a big difference between an Australian stranded in the Congo vs France. Their health and safety outcomes are likely far more at risk in one than the other. But if they put themselves at risk that’s a relevant consideration also.

          Details matter and I find it hard to generalise. I do not dispute your point that there would be many that have found themselves stranded through no fault of their own. And I suspect there are many others that are finding it convenient to return now, or underestimated the risk (despite warnings from the Australian government). For those, I have much less sympathy.

  4. Are citizens getting preference over permanent residents? I hope so.

    I have no sympathy for a permanent resident who got stuck in India after ducking off for a festival, sorry, I mean, to see their sick aunty.

  5. Mark HeydonMEMBER

    “The federal government should have opened up federal quarantine facilities and chartered flights to pick them up six months ago (if not earlier).”
    Agreed. At the same time they could have (should have) back filled with international students with no means to support themselves in Australia.