The Prime Minister has flagged the possibility of further slowing the number of people arriving at Australian international airports.
Since Australia’s borders closed, the number of Australians returning home has reduced drastically, but flights are still arriving and often bringing positive coronavirus cases with them.
Here is what we know so far about changes to international arrivals and if it is about to get harder to return to Australia.
Are rates of international arrivals about to change?
It’s looking likely.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was questioned on Wednesday about the potential for reducing the number of people travelling to Australia from overseas further than it had been already, and he said it was being considered.
“I’ll be taking a proposal to that end to National Cabinet on Friday and I have been discussing that with premiers over the last 24 hours,” he said.
This comes after the Victorian Government requested international arrivals be diverted away from Melbourne while it manages an ongoing rise in cases, the WA Government moved to limit people returning to Perth from overseas to 525 a week, and NSW also arranged a cap on international arrivals at the request of the State Government.
While various states are making their own arrangements, Friday’s proposal looks set to revolve around balancing the intake around the country.
“The issue is what the overall level of returning Australians are, and that’s why I’ll be bringing a proposal on Friday to reduce that load,” Mr Morrison said.
While Melbourne isn’t accepting overseas travellers, the Prime Minister said it was important not to put an unsustainable amount of pressure on other cities.
“There is a volume that can be accommodated by the states and territories currently, but they certainly wouldn’t want to see that increase,” he said.
“With Melbourne shut down from that point of view, taking on higher burdens is what we’re seeking to avoid.”
International passenger arrivals by state:
- NSW: 39,394
- VIC: 15,374
- QLD: 10,054
- WA: 5,377
- NT: 962
- SA: 683
- ACT: 307
(Between June 7 and July 7 2020)
Who can fly into Australia right now?
Australia’s borders are currently closed to anyone who is not an Australian citizen, a permanent resident, an immediate family member of a citizen or permanent resident or a New Zealand citizen who usually resides in Australia.
Other travellers can apply for an exemption from the Australian Border Force Commissioner to come to Australia, but they’d need a pretty good reason to have that granted.
It’s unclear at this stage how or if the proposal set to be put before National Cabinet on Friday would affect who is eligible to enter Australia.
At the moment, all travellers coming to Australia from overseas must enter a mandatory two-week quarantine at a designated location, usually a hotel, and that quarantine must be done in the city the traveller arrives in, even if it’s not their home city or state.
Since late March when these rules were introduced, Victoria and NSW have taken on the most people for these mandatory quarantines — mostly because that’s where people had booked their flights to arrive.
Over the last week or so we’ve heard reports of some serious issues with how this plan was implemented in Victoria, which is part of the reason why Premier Daniel Andrews requested international flights be diverted away from Melbourne for a fortnight.
SmartTraveller issued an update on Tuesday warning people returning to Australia that their flights may be affected by new caps on international passenger arrivals and “the requirement to contribute to the cost of quarantine”.
What will it cost to travel back to Australia?
With many airlines cutting right back on flights, some people are reporting that airfares have risen sharply, but that’s not the only cost to consider if you’re trying to get home.
Until recently, most states and territories have been largely footing the bill for quarantining international arrivals (but Queensland, for example, is now making people pay).
And for interstate travel, some states and territories have introduced rules forcing travellers to pay for their own quarantine while travelling within Australia.
Mr Morrison says it’s up to each jurisdiction as to whether they implement similar rules for those arriving from overseas.
“The states and territories can send people a bill today if they wish, and if they wish to do that then the Commonwealth would have no objection to that,” he said.
“They’d be actually solely within their rights to do that. I think that would be a completely understandable proposition for people who have been away for some time and there’s been many opportunities for people to return. If they’re choosing to do so now, they have obviously delayed that decision for a period.”
Mr Morrison was also asked about whether a tax was likely to be imposed on Australians wanting to travel overseas, both to help recoup expenses and to encourage people to support domestic tourism.
He acknowledged there had been speculation about this, but didn’t confirm whether any similar plans were in the works.
“Those matters will be addressed in the budget,” he said.
“We haven’t even concluded arrangements with any other countries at the moment and it will be some time yet before we even were able to achieve that, even for New Zealand or potentially any countries in the Pacific.”
What’s happening with that New Zealand travel bubble?
There’s been plenty of talk about a trans-Tasman travel bubble arrangement between Australia and New Zealand over the past couple of months, but Victoria’s latest case increase has cast more doubts on the plan.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told New Zealand’s TVNZ1 that issues in Victoria were delaying the two countries reopening borders with each other.
“We have a system that would work with a state-by-state approach or a whole country approach,” Ms Ardern told the local media outlet.
“If it’s whole country we’ll be waiting because obviously there is community transmission in Victoria and we can’t risk that.”
Ms Ardern flagged the possibility of linking with individual states if they’re coronavirus-free, but it’s not clear at this stage whether Friday’s proposal will factor in plans to reconnect with New Zealand or not.
I want to get back to Australia. What should I do?
Rules and restrictions are moving pretty quickly, but overall, travel will be affected by the pandemic for a while yet.
Australia’s Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said last month that international borders were likely to stay closed until next year, and International Air Transport Association director-general Alexandre de Juniac told the ABC it was unlikely international travel would be widespread until at least 2023.
As we’ve seen in the last few days alone, travel and quarantine arrangements are constantly under consideration.
There’s no rule to say the measures that are in place right now will not change in the near future, so keep an eye on sites like SmartTraveller if you’re affected to make sure you have the most up-to-date info on what it means for you.