Labor is calling on the Government to use VIP Air Force jets to ferry home thousands of Australians stuck overseas and facing the prospect of waiting months to return.
- The Government says the problem is spaces in hotel quarantine, not on commercial flights
- 25,000 Australians are overseas, awaiting the chance to come home
- The ABF Commissioner says he expects commercial flights to increase if hotel quarantine beds are increased
The Federal Government says some 25,000 Australians are awaiting the chance to return but face lengthy delays due to a cap on the number of inbound passengers allowed into Australia each week.
The cap has led to airlines restricting how many passengers come into Australia, but even those who secure a ticket face cancellations with the potential to leave them stranded.
In a call already derided by one Government frontbencher as a “stunt”, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said RAAF jets, which are used to transport officials including the Prime Minister, should be used to bring more Australians home each week.
“The Prime Minister can do something more immediate with the aircraft directly at his disposal,” he said.
“The RAAF VIP fleet is largely sitting idle.
“Scott Morrison uses one of the fleet. That can carry 100 passengers. The Governor-General has the other large aircraft, and there are a number of smaller aircraft.
“Those who staff these planes need to get up their flying hours … if people aren’t using those aircraft, they’ll be flying around empty.
“There’s nothing to stop the Government from doing this practical measure.”
The Government says the number of people allowed to enter Australia each week is dictated by the number of people states and territories are willing to host in hotel quarantine at any one time.
But Mr Albanese said the Federal Government could do more to boost Australia’s quarantine capacity.
“It’s not like there’s a shortage of hotel space in this country,” he said.
“The Prime Minister might have noticed that tourists aren’t coming here and hotels certainly have available space.”
Speaking this morning, before Mr Albanese made the request, Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram said he expected if the number of beds available in hotel quarantine increased, the availability of commercial flights would also increase.
He said the current cap on hotel quarantine, which was set by agreement of National Cabinet, meant about 12,000 beds were available at any one time.
“It’s not enough, if I’m being honest, and as long as the caps remain with the hotel quarantine in place, it’s going to be difficult to envisage a situation where the airlines will start bringing more passengers in,” he said.
“If that cap was to double overnight we’d be delighted and we could certainly facilitate those people through the border. I’ve got no doubt the airlines will take up that additional capacity.”
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Labor had missed the point, arguing the true issue was the need for safely managed quarantine.
“There are plenty of empty seats on planes landing in Australia. The major constraint on arrivals are state caps on quarantine rooms,” Senator Birmingham wrote on Twitter.
“This Labor stunt wouldn’t even address the real problem.”
But Mr Albanese said the Federal Government had ultimate responsibility to provide quarantine and to bring people home safely.
“The only thing that is missing here isn’t hotel space — it’s leadership,” he said.