ABC MELBOURNE BREAKFAST WITH ALI MOORE
WEDNESDAY, 19 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECTS: International arrival caps; airline price gouging; Australians overseas.
ALI MOORE, HOST: Here is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. Catherine King, good morning.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good morning Ali.
MOORE: Do you have any understanding of how this cap is administered?
KING: Well, I don’t think it is administered, I think that is fair to say. I think that what we’ve got is the cap in place, and that’s been in place since we’ve had the shutdown of Victoria with the international arrivals being ceased and other states saying that they’d be unable to take the amount that Victoria was taking and then capping that, and trying to make sure that Victoria is getting on top of this current outbreak. But basically, it’s whatever flights are available and basically whatever airlines are told, this is what’s available and if they can fill a plane, sometimes we’ve only got 30 people coming into Sydney on some planes. Then once that limit is reached the airport itself are telling people that once that’s reached no more can come in. Look, I think this is an issue the National Cabinet is going to need to discuss, we’ve now got case after case. There’s one in the Guardian today outlining where we’ve got a nurse, she’s gone overseas to see her mum who’s had a stroke, she’s gone in June when things had been expected to start to pick up again, she’s now stuck overseas, she’s the only income earner for the family and can’t get back and every time she’s been booked on a plane, she’s been bumped or told that if you want to pay extra for business class fares then we might be able to get you on. With the sort of desperation we’re hearing through our electorate offices, I think the Government needs to have a bit of think about what role it can play here to assist.
MOORE: What role do you think it can play because it seems very definitive that the federal government is handballing this back to each state and territory even though these caps are part of a National Cabinet decision. They are very definite that each state and territory is responsible for managing its own and has flexibility within its own.
KING: Well, I think through by the National Cabinet, the government needs to talk to some states to see what capacity they might have, I think even if it’s on a temporary basis to try and see whether we can repatriate some people. Obviously at the very early stages of this pandemic the government, eventually, did repatriate some people home in fairly desperate circumstances and I think it might need to have a look at whether it needs to do that again. You know, people obviously do need to be very, very aware, if they are making decisions to go overseas that there is a very high chance that they will not come back for quite some time and that it will be very expensive when they do so. But largely we’re talking about people who have been either stuck overseas because of work arrangements, selling property or because of family emergencies that had to go over for a funeral or a family member has become very ill, and they’ve gone when things look like they’re recovering and they’re now stuck and not able to get back. So I do think the government needs to have a bit of a talk about how it can from a national perspective try and ease some of the pressure.
MOORE: What does that look like? Does that look like raising the cap and putting in place a nationally uniform hotel quarantine program?
KING: Well, of course, we’ve got Jane Halton who the Prime Minister asked to look at quarantine nationally, we haven’t heard from her or the government about what she has done and what she has found and I would hope that when she has completed her work a report would be made public, and that that would then make sure that we have uniform quarantine procedures across the country, and that would be absolutely the role of the National Cabinet. But there is a bit of a pattern here where we’ve got the Morrison Government saying that they are not responsible for any problem at all. They are very happy to say here’s the great things that we’re doing, but very unhappy to take any responsibility when things are difficult or when things need to be negotiated with the states and territories. The cap is really important, we do need to keep the integrity of the quarantine system, but I do think through National Cabinet processes it should not be beyond the wit of the government to say, are there some states where we have capacity for a brief period of time to try and deal with this issue of repatriating people who are in very desperate circumstances overseas, and how do we try to make sure that there isn’t price gouging by the airlines. I’ve referred it to the ACCC and they’re having a look at it to see what they can do within their powers, and trying to work with the airlines and airports to try and make sure they manage this.
MOORE: How long does the opposition think that a system like this can stay in place. You said there, it’s very important to maintain the integrity of the hotel quarantine system, but we also hear that three out of four applications to leave the country have been knocked back. It’s an extraordinary restriction on residents and I know that we’re in extraordinary times, but no other country blocks its citizens from leaving the country like Australia currently is. How long do you think we can maintain that?
KING: Well, I think the first thing to say is that it will be driven by data and will be determined by what’s happening in case numbers, and the capacity of states and territories to manage people coming back into the country. Given previously between June and July, I think we had through Sydney, for example, during that time, there were 14,000 arrivals, there is now 350 arrivals into Sydney per day. So it’s been quite a dramatic drop.
MOORE: So you have to imagine this fair whack of spare capacity there?
KING: Well, again, I think that’s something that the National Cabinet needs to discuss. I don’t pretend that they can pretend this issue isn’t occurring. But I do caution, and I do think, that people need to be very, very aware that travel overseas at the moment isn’t unfortunately, where we are at the moment in terms of the pandemic and cases, it’s not a right, it is really a responsibility. If people are traveling overseas, they need to be aware that there is a very strong potential that they will be stuck overseas for a long period of time, potentially without any financial resources, and it may take quite some time to get home. And so I think if people are traveling it does need to be something that’s very, very essential and as I said, the case we’ve seen today of a nurse, she’s gone over the visit her mum who has had a stroke, you can understand the circumstances in which she’s done that, particularly as she booked when things were easing, and now to be stuck overseas in the circumstances that she is unable to return home. I think it is something that the government needs to think about how it can actually ease some of that pressure.
MOORE: And as you say, you’ve referred it to the ACCC, given that Australian airlines are barely flying, what ability would they have to look at issues like price gouging with foreign airlines that aren’t covered by Australian law.
KING: Well if the product is sold here in Australia, so if they booked through an Australian travel agent, then the ACCC can look at it. But of course, if people who booked through overseas travel agents or overseas websites, then you’re right, the power is quite limited. And you know, some of the behaviour that we’re hearing of people deliberately being booked on, they’re overbooking flights then basically saying, well, look, you can get on this flight, if you pay an extra $5,000, and in some cases $10,000, you will be able to get on the spot. But if you can’t pay that then you won’t get on. I think that deliberate cancellation of flights for people, all of those things, the ACCC does need to have a look if there’s been any predatory behaviour by some of those airlines in the current circumstances, but I think equally I think the government does need to have a bit of a chat through National Cabinet to try and see if there’s some resolution, at least on a temporary basis to try to get some of these people home who are in some pretty awful circumstances.
MOORE: Well, it is a lot of people as you say who, I mean I’ve got a couple of texts here indicating, but hang on, they were warned to come home months ago, that a lot of them have had to leave they’ve had, as you say, family emergencies, they’ve lost loved ones and I think it’s incredibly difficult for people. We are a very, you know, the world used to be a small place, and it’s not anymore.
KING: No, absolutely. And also circumstances I’ve heard where people have been, absolutely they were going to stay, they’ve got jobs, and they’ve, you know, got houses over there. Their whole lives have been there for years and years, and suddenly their work has completely dried up or there’s something happened back here that they’ve had to come home for. So you know, I’m not saying in every single circumstance people haven’t, you know, some people have made foolish decisions, but equally there are people who for family circumstances are in the circumstances they are and I think trying to sort some of those issues out shouldn’t be beyond the federal government.
MOORE: Catherine King, thank you for talking to us.
KING: Good to talk to you.