The Australian Border Force (ABF) has played down reports that more than 10,000 travellers entered Australia in April to visit friends, go on a holiday or for business.
The Sydney Morning Herald obtained data from the inbound passenger cards travellers fill out stating their purposes for visiting the country, which suggested many were findings ways around Australia’s closed border.
However, on Thursday authorities said those forms do not reflect the categories under which people are approved to enter the country.
The SMH’s report said in April, 2,226 cards listed the passengers’ reason for arriving as “business, conferences or exhibitions”; 8,067 cards listed “visiting family or friends” and “taking a holiday”; 5,200 cited employment; and 72 recorded “attending a conference”.
The newspaper excluded passengers travelling from New Zealand as part of the trans-Tasman bubble.
Later on Thursday, the ABF said the cards existed prior to COVID and didn’t reflect the reasons given to the Border Force to approve their entry.
“Non-citizens arriving into Australia, with the exception of the New Zealand safe travel zone, are still required to receive an approved travel exemption from the ABF unless they are already exempt from the travel restrictions,” the ABF said.
“The ABF is the only agency able to analyse movements against exemption requests in order to understand the reason for travel.
“Data from other sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing a high number of non-citizens arriving into Australia can only report on the passport used to enter Australia.
“It’s important to note that Permanent Residents and their immediate family members who are not Australian citizens will travel on foreign passports.
“ABF analysis of a seven day period in February, March, April, May and June has consistently indicated that over 80 per cent of arrivals that are required to quarantine within the hotel quarantine caps are Australian citizens, permanent residents or their immediate family.
“Australia’s travel restrictions and travel exemption policy settings support our efforts to return as many Australians as possible by ensuring any travel into Australia by foreign nationals is limited to very narrow exemption criteria and is guided by advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
“All foreign nationals who do not have an automatic exemption to Australia’s travel restrictions must apply for and be granted an exemption from Australia’s travel restrictions, either because they would be providing skills deemed critical for Australia or demonstrated compelling and compassionate circumstances.”
The row comes after Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews suggested this week that Australia should reduce arrival caps for returning Australians by up to 80 per cent to reduce the chances of lockdowns.
“I want to sit down and have a proper debate and discussion. Yes, there’d be an inconvenience in less people being able to return … a lot of that would be heartbreaking … but it’s about time [we had that discussion],” said Andrews on Tuesday morning.
“I want a debate and discussion about how many people we’re letting in and how many people we’re letting out to then return home.
“A lockdown of a whole city, or halving or reducing by 75 per cent or 80 per cent the number of people in hotel quarantine, in my judgement, there’s no comparison.
“My judgement is a vast majority of Victorians are far more alarmed at the prospect of lockdowns [than reducing the number of returning Australians].”
However, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg hinted the arrival numbers will not come down and insisted hotel quarantine has “by and large been effective”.
Andrews’ comments are also in stark contrast to his NSW counterpart Gladys Berejiklian, who said her state would continue to take international arrivals despite Sydney’s lockdown.