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PM actually told Aussies abroad to stay put, argues Shorten

written by Adam Thorn | September 1, 2020

VH-OQA rotates from Melbourne Airport Qantas A380
A Qantas A380 departs from Melbourne Airport (Dave Soda)

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten has appeared to challenge Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s assertion that he told Australian stranded abroad to return home in March.

Speaking on Nine’s Today show on Tuesday morning, Shorten also argued repatriating citizens should be prioritised over returning international students.

His comments come after Prime Minister wrote a letter to Australians stranded abroad last week in which he appeared to blame them for their struggles to return home – insisting he specifically instructed them to come back on 17 March.

Since that date, however, international arrival caps, first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities, have made returning more problematic.

Many have blamed the system for reducing availability and hugely increasing the cost of flights, leaving Aussies effectively stranded.

“We have Australian citizens overseas who were told not to come back in March but for who for various circumstances beyond their control need to get back,” Shorten said.

The confusion comes because the Prime Minister actually said, “If you’re already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means”— leaving many to argue that they weren’t then planning to return.


The majority of international airlines, including Qantas and Virgin Australia, all but halted most commercial international flights by the end of March.

Shorten then claimed the Prime Minister, who has criticised state premiers for closing their borders, was himself playing politics by pointing his attacks only at Labor-held states.

“Mr Morrison doesn’t seem to be very vocal in his criticism of Tasmania and South Australia with Liberal administrations. But when it comes to a state Labor government he and his people seem to have a lot more to say,” said Shorten.


“I would just encourage the Prime Minister to take the high road. We’re all in this together, Victoria’s feeling pretty hard done by. We just want to get it right. We don’t need any more politics.”

Finally, he hit out at the decision to start a pilot program to allow international students to fly into Australia, which will begin in September.

“What we have is a situation where international students are able to come to Australia. I have a bloke in Singapore, all his contracts are finished – an Australian citizen can’t get home but we are taking international students,” said Shorten.

“We have a lot of Aussies stranded abroad. I think we should be prioritising Australian citizens. That’s something Mr Morrison can work on without bagging the state premiers.”

On Friday, Australian Aviation reported that the industry body representing international airlines predicted it would take its members six months to return all Aussies stranded abroad if the current cap system isn’t relaxed.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia said it thinks the actual number wanting to come back is as high as 100,000, and not just the 19,000 who have registered with the government.

Comments (16)

  • Mark


    Why is Shorten still opening his mouth? You lost, get over it

  • Alison


    Advice on Smartraveller for Aussies living, working or studying overseas was as follows (from Wayback Machine)

    If you live, work or study overseas, you’re probably wondering what our advice ‘do not travel’ means for you. You might also be asking what we meant when we said if you decide to come home, then do so as soon as possible while commercial options are available.
    If you’re a long-term overseas-based Australian, you need to consider the accessibility and quality of health care and whether you have the support systems you’d need if you got sick or had to spend an extended period somewhere. Depending on where you are, you might find your freedom to move heavily restricted and borders difficult to cross.
    You need to decide what is right for you. If you decide to stay where you are, you need to know that departure options are reducing, and that our ability to provide consular assistance is becoming more limited in some places due to movement and other restrictions.
    If you wish to return to Australia, we continue to recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means. We know that this is getting harder in many places.

    … Bill Shorten was correct. This is what we were told – if we had health care and support, we should stay.

    No one had a crystal ball to realise that these warnings, which came while lockdowns were already instituted in some countries, would mean that they would essentially bar us from coming home.

    • Adam Thorn


      Alison… that’s a fantastic bit of digging you’ve done there! Thank you so much.


  • Craigy


    Pffft Bill Shorten. Short on honesty, short on integrity and short on honour.

  • Al


    @ALISON, I would disagree that Bill Shorten was right.
    The advice was clear in that the recommendation was to return home, however you need to decide “what is right for you”.
    If Australians overseas decided to stay that was a personal decision, based on their assessment of their own situation.
    I agree that the length of the lockdown and flight restrictions could not be predicted. I am of the view that the border restrictions were necessary.
    Having said that, NSW is the only state that is pulling its weight in processing returned travelers. The other states (barring VIC for obvious reasons) need to do more to help bring back Australians.

  • Denny


    Shorten?? Yet ANOTHER irrelevant Laborite.
    Go away, we didn’t want you then, we don’t want to hear from you now……

  • Grumpyoldfart


    We were overseas in March and we distincly recall Scomo advising Australians to return so I don’t know what Shorten is bleating about.

  • Ian


    there are some charter flights planned to various destinations before end of the year, BUT if airlines can carry Australians outbound without restriction (all least from states like Qld not Vic), then seats will be much cheaper. Flying aircraft empty in one direction is VERY expensive.

  • Rais


    Shorten is Shadow Minister for Government Services. It’s appropriate that he speak on matters affecting Australians trying to access Government services.

  • Mike Borgelt


    How Alison can say Bill Shorten was correct is beyond me.
    “if you decide to come home, then do so as soon as possible while commercial options are available………”
    “consider the accessibility and quality of health care and whether you have the support systems you’d need if you got sick or had to spend an extended period somewhere.”
    Doesn’t add up to “stay where you are.”

    I read it at the time as “if you might want to come back in the foreseeable future, get back here ASAP”
    Those who remained O/S will be better off anyway as most countries achieve herd immunity while Australia and New Zealand remain isolated without any plan except hoping for an effective vaccine which likely may never arrive.
    Hope is not a strategy.

  • Gary Smith


    Alison – I think you are missing the point. Whilst the PM did say that if you considered your circumstances were sufficiently secure, then you should stay, it is not realistic to now bleat that you are stranded overseas and cannot come home, as the situation did not turn out the way you had hoped. I also remember the PM expressing a note of caution that if he was an expat then his priority would be to come home irrespective of their situation. Shorten is playing the emotion card once again.

  • Alison


    How quickly do you think you could pack up your life, sell everything, and move? That was the position lots of stranded Aussies were in. Also, people had jobs. At the time, that was the right decision – I had money coming in, I didn’t want to come home and rely on Centrelink. So what was right for me, and right for you as an Australian taxpayer, was that I stayed here. Then lockdown was extended, people lost jobs, then couldn’t afford rent then tried to come home and couldn’t. What then?

    Anyway, everyone commenting here seems to be against Aussies overseas, so what’s the point in arguing? We’re all Australians but people seem to think we’re less Australian because we’re not actually in the country…. We’re not asking for your money or sympathy. I just need the caps lifted so I can come home.

  • Mei


    Absolutely Alison. Nobody knew what would play out, and now all you want is to come home. I hear you and I hope you make it home safely soon.

  • Anna


    Alison, I completely agree with you. My daughter is living in the UK. She has a job, a home and health cover. Like you, she decided to stay or else come back to Australia and join the Centrelink queue. I feel people are so narrow-minded and just don’t understand that others have lives outside Australia and it’s not easy to pack them up in a short period of time. Australia is the only democratic country in the world that has banned people from leaving and limited the numbers allowed to enter.

    My daughters job contract concludes in December and she has a flight booked to return home. Like you, I also hope the Government see sense and increase the flight caps.

  • Krystyna Gilbert


    Unless you are there you can’t talk!
    Try empathy. Other countries have limited flights out, many people have tried multiple purchased flights each month trying to get a seat since March always cancelled even up to the day before, very distressing and still waiting at great expense.

  • S Sanders


    So good to see Bill Shorten speak up for all the Australians that have been abandoned overseas. You are right on all accounts Allison the travel advice was aimed at travellers not those living and working overseas. No one could have predicted what has happened since and now many of those Australians have lost their jobs, or their visas finishing and are being bumped off their flights up to 10 times. I am so ashamed of the cold hearted callous way the govt is ignoring these Aussies and also the nasty Australians here’s who have no empathy. These Aussies have saved Australia millions of dollars in jobkeeper payments yet they are being treated like they are lepers. It’s bloody disgraceful. No longer proud of this country or many of its people.

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