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Confusion over arrival cap increase

written by Adam Thorn | September 17, 2020

Qantas is expanding at Perth Airport. (Paul Sadler/Airservices)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the 50 per cent increase in Australia’s arrival caps would be in place from next Friday – but there is confusion as to whether states will choose to meet the apparent deadline.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said he was not told about the plan by the federal government before the public announcement and NSW said it would accept an extra 500 international travellers per week but only on the condition other territories do more.

The state reactions came hours after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said he had written to state premiers urging them to help lift the national cap by 50 per cent, from 4,000 to 6,000.

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.

Critics have argued that decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.

Deputy PM 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.”

Premier McGowan reacted angrily to not being informed prior to Wednesday’s press conference.

“I would’ve thought these things should be discussed at national cabinet rather than a letter being released to the press prior to being brought to the attention of the relevant premiers,” he said. “I agreed at the last national cabinet meeting that we would have a conversation with the Commonwealth about what else we could do.


“What we’ve said is that we’re co-operative, we want to be co-operative about lifting the numbers from the 525.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was a “fair response” to take more but that other states had to increase their numbers, too.

Finally, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had previously “mentioned to the Deputy Prime Minister that I would be more than happy to look at taking more Australians here where we have the capacity to do so”.

Currently, more than 20,000 people have formally registered their interest to return to Australia from abroad, but the industry body representing airlines thinks the real number is closer to 100,000.

Yesterday, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said there were 30,000 alone in the UK and it would take “well into 2021” to return them.

The current limits 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.

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