Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday announced plans to lift the controversial airline arrival seat caps into Australia, suggesting a 2,000 seat per week increase ‘could’ begin from next Friday.
In an announcement yesterday, Mr Morrison said the number of people allowed into Australia each week would increase by 2,000 from the current 4,000 to 6,000 seats per week from next Friday, though the government still has to get buy-in from individual states and territories who will have to house the extra arrivals in hotel quarantine.
The National Cabinet will meet today to discuss the extra load on state and territory hotel quarantine systems in more detail with a further announcement to come once (and if) an agreement can be made.
In what has been a week of ongoing lobbying and media scrutiny, the government is under increasing pressure to get more Australians home as soon as possible with the situation described as a growing ‘humanitarian crisis’.
So much so that Amnesty International claims Australia could be breaching international human rights laws that guarantee people’s ability to return to their home country.
The government estimates that there are currently around 27,000 stranded Australians overseas who are registered to come home with 3,000 listed as vulnerable.
In light of vastly reduced airline schedules and even with this minimal rise in total seats per week, It’s estimated that many Australians will still not be able to get home until Christmas.
Perhaps not surprisingly though, politics is once again already rearing its ugly head with some individual states declaring they had no knowledge of the Federal government’s proposed plan when it was announced.
Yesterday, West Australian Premier Mark McGowan criticised the Government saying they had blindsided states and territories by announcing their plan without any prior consultation.
“No phone call, no contact, no nothing,” Mr McGowan said.
The Government’s proposed plan is for Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales to each accept an additional 500 travellers a week. At the same time, South Australia has already agreed to lift its weekly capacity for international arrivals by 360 people.
Queensland has already said it will only accept the extra returning Australians if they are managed in quarantine by the Federal government.
Meanwhile, the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Tasmania have been asked to assess their individual capacity for taking in returned travellers while in quarantine.
Speaking about the announcement, The Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) also gave their support to an urgent lift in the cap with ATIC Executive Director Simon Westaway saying:
“A 50% cap increase to 6000 weekly arrivals of stranded Australian citizens and residents is the just and right thing to do and it is also a means to keep our travel and tourism industry going,”
“Our travel and accommodation sector has clear capacity to support more international arrivals into Australia and far greater volumes are badly needed to sustain airline and airport operations.
Simon Westaway, ATIC Executive Director
“Without an immediate arrival cap boost, we are sending a very poor message to international airlines servicing Australia and creating a real risk of a permanent loss of future flights and capacity.” He said.
Asked if the states and territories could handle the extra load, Mr Morrison said they would be able to deal with the added demand for quarantine, particularly with Commonwealth supports on offer.
“They were all taking more than this before caps were put in place, than what we are asking them to do now,” he said.
UPDATE: Since writing this story and after the National Cabinet meeting, the outcome was as follows:
- New South Wales will allow an additional 500 passengers per week from Monday 27 September, totalling 3,000 people per week.
- Queensland will allow an additional 200 passengers a week from 27 September moving to 500 by 4 October.
- Western Australia will allow an additional 200 passengers a week from 27 September moving to 500 by 11 October.
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