Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has written to state premiers urging them to help lift the cap on how many Australians can return home by 50 per cent.
Deputy PM McCormack, who is also the Transport Minister, said he was asking NSW, Queensland and WA to accommodate an additional 500 people per week into hotel quarantine and SA an extra 360.
However, it’s not yet clear whether these premiers have agreed, or when any increase may come into effect.
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.
The Deputy PM increased the pressure on states to help by telling reporters that cities had “plenty of empty hotel rooms” that he wanted “filled with returning Australians”. He added he was hoping to loosen the caps by the end of September.
“Those letters are telling them that’s what they, in fact, need to do, and I’ve had discussions with them,” Deputy PM McCormack said. “They know, they understand, this needs to happen.”
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.
The government’s announcement came a week after Australian Aviation exclusively revealed how the industry body representing international airlines warned the government its members would have no choice but to stop flying to Australia if arrival caps aren’t increased.
In a significant hardening of its position, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said its members “cannot be expected” to “continue indefinitely with such flights on a commercial basis”.
“A target average of at least 100 passengers per arriving flight, while still difficult financially, is far better than 30 or less,” added BARA executive director Barry Abrams.
The organisation’s third statement in short succession came days after it argued the government should allow flexibility on quarantine for those who arrive from areas with fewer COVID-19 cases.
It had previously said it would take its members six months to return all citizens stranded abroad if the current cap system wasn’t relaxed.