Australians stranded abroad were dealt a new blow on Friday when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Melbourne wouldn’t welcome international arrivals until November.
Melbourne stopped accepting flights at the start of July as the city experienced a second wave of coronavirus cases. Later that month, the government capped arrivals nationwide to just 4,000 – but that low figure was partly due to the Victorian capital not being able to help with the load.
Critics have argued the cap system has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.
Premier Andrews reiterated on Friday morning that he can’t restart his quarantine program until the ongoing enquiry into the state’s handling of arrivals reaches a conclusion later this year.
“It depends on what is in that final report in terms of what system, structures … we have reset the program, we are doing some work in the background to make sure that we can respond to the report as quickly as possible. But it is not possible for us to anticipate what will be in that final report,” he said.
“I have tried to be as clear as they can on multiple occasions that we will wait for that report before I ring the Prime Minister and say flights can come back.”
Melbourne’s involvement is crucial as the industry body representing international airlines in Australia, BARA, has repeatedly said its members need to be able to fly into major airports to make flights economical.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised there would be 50 per cent increase in Australia’s arrival caps – however, it’s still unclear whether that target has been met.
It came days after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack appeared to try and force states’ hands by writing to premiers and urging them to help lift the national cap by 50 per cent, from 4,000 to 6,000.
However, it’s unclear though whether the national government has the authority to increase capacity – while it maintains responsibility for the ADF, most quarantine services have been managed by state administrations.
The restrictions limiting the number of Australians who could fly home at any one time were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.
Deputy PM Michael McCormack was bullish in attempting to force the arms of premiers to do more.
“Those letters are telling them that’s what they, in fact, need to do, and I’ve had discussions with them,” he said. “They know, they understand, this needs to happen.”
There was a mixed response from state premiers on the news: WA Premier Mark McGowan reacted angrily to not being informed before the federal press conference, but NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was a “fair response” to take more arrivals.
The current limits, before any increases were added are:
- Melbourne – no international passenger arrivals;
- Sydney – 350 passenger arrivals per day;
- Perth – 525 passenger arrivals per week;
- Brisbane –500 passenger arrivals per week; and
- Adelaide – 500 passenger arrivals per week.