Of course, Australian citizens living overseas have every right to enter their own country if they can secure a flight and are willing to complete quarantine. They also have the right to leave again, as unlike most citizens and permanent residents, Australians who ordinarily live abroad do not need an exemption to travel overseas. (It’s just a shame other Australians, especially dual citizens with family abroad, are denied the same right.)
Meanwhile, non-citizens require valid visas and exemptions to enter the country, so they are already jumping hurdles to justify coming here. Many are close family members of citizens.
The obvious conclusion is not “blame visitors” but to recognise that we need to deal separately with those who are truly stranded. The current arrangements are failing them because they can’t afford it; airfares and quarantine can cost tens of thousands of dollars for a family.
We should look seriously at the New Zealand system, where people pre-book hotel quarantine. This would ensure fairness for economy passengers, because it wouldn’t be left to the airlines to decide who gets on a flight. It also means families or people with special needs can ensure the accommodation is suitable, while adding the spice of competition to ensure hotels and caterers provide good service.
The states running hotel quarantine say they have no control over international borders, they just house whoever arrives. Meanwhile, the federal government says it doesn’t run hotel quarantine. They need to work together on this.
The federal government needs to step up with more repatriation flights and an expansion of national quarantine. It’s opened the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory and helped more than 15,000 people on 109 government-run repatriation flights but it needs to do more. The problem will go away when the government makes it a priority or when borders reopen, whichever comes first.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer with a focus on social affairs.