The federal government has called on states and territories to boost their combined hotel quarantine capacity by 50 per cent, to allow at least 6,000 Australians stuck overseas to return home per week.
Transport Minister Michael McCormack has written to state and territory leaders requesting that the cap on international arrivals be increased from 4,000 to 6,000 per week, with New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia asked to take an additional 500 incoming passengers per week.
McCormack, whose portfolio has responsibility for the caps, told the press he had also asked South Australia to boost its capacity, and written to the leaders of Tasmania, the ACT and the NT, to gauge their ability to take on more international arrivals.
“Those letters are telling them that’s what they in fact need to do, and I’ve had discussions with them,” he said, as reported by ABC News.
“They know, they understand, this needs to happen. There’s plenty of empty hotel rooms in these capital cities, and I want them filled with returning Australians.”
However, WA Premier Mark McGowan on Wednesday told reporters at a doorstop that he had not received a letter from McCormack, and had, therefore, not been able to consider it.
“I don’t really like the fact that this has been sprung via a press conference without a discussion with the people actually required to implement it,” McGowan told ABC News.
“I would have thought that is very directly outside the spirit of the National Cabinet.”
The nation’s top tourism accommodation body welcomed a potential increase in hotel quarantine capacity.
“The increase comes at a time when CBD hotels right around Australia are basically at a standstill due to the on-going border closures, no international tourists and a lack of any corporate or major events,” Tourism Accommodation Australia chief executive Michael Johnson said.
From a pool of 36,000 Australian residents living overseas, there are now at least 27,000 who have registered their intention to return home, but cannot access flights due to Australia’s strict international arrival caps, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA), which represents international airlines flying into Australia, believes the number of Aussies left outside the country is much higher, estimating there are likely some 30,000 Australians in the United Kingdom seeking to return home.
In a press statement, BARA said it would “likely take well into 2021 to return all these Australians”, noting that some increase in the cap on international arrivals might be forthcoming.
The news comes as the Australian High Commission in the UK deploys teams to London’s Heathrow Airport to help stranded Australians who have been forced to camp at the airport.
It follows troubling reports of a mother and her three children left stranded at Heathrow for three days, after being bumped off flights home in favour of business class passengers.
In a Facebook post, the High Commission said its teams were meeting with passengers whose flights had been cancelled, and liaising with airlines, airports, and governments to find any unused seats.
We're working within caps on international passenger flows to facilitate Australians returning home — especially the…
According to BARA, international airlines with some 30,000 seats on over 140 flights arrived into Australia in the first week of September.
However, only about 4,000 of these seats could be offered to passengers while 26,000 (87 per cent) had to remain empty due to the tight international passenger arrival caps, the board claimed.
Airlines have admitted to cancelling the tickets of economy and business class passengers in order to use their limits for more expensive tickets and remain profitable under the caps.
Featured image source: iStock/Boyloso