Australia

Scott Morrison faces calls to rescue Aussies stranded overseas due to COVID-19

Scott Morrison is under pressure to rescue thousands of stranded Australians unable to return home from overseas as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns and border closures amid calls to use RAAF flights and his own VIP plane to repatriate families.Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called for action today on up to 25,000 expat Australians who…

Scott Morrison is under pressure to rescue thousands of stranded Australians unable to return home from overseas as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns and border closures amid calls to use RAAF flights and his own VIP plane to repatriate families.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called for action today on up to 25,000 expat Australians who in some cases have had flights repeatedly cancelled.

Six months after the Prime Minister urged Australians to return home after borders closed across the world, thousands of Australians remain trapped overseas.

Some are happy to remain overseas, but for others Australia’s international passenger arrival caps have proved a barrier to returning home and securing a flight.

To help manage the influx of passengers into the hotel quarantine scheme, the number of flights into Australia must not exceed 4,000 flights a week, a huge drop to the number of flights available each week before the pandemic.

After harrowing stories emerged of pregnant women who feared becoming homeless after their flights were cancelled to return home, Labor has urged the Prime Minister to utilise military flights to return vulnerable families back to Australia.

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“We’re hearing stories that are flooding electorate offices around the country, of desperate people. We have a woman with a one-year-old child told to go to a homeless shelter,’’ Mr Albanese said.

“We have women who are about to give birth, desperate to get home. There’s something very practical that he can do. Because the RAAF VIP fleet is largely sitting idle. Scott Morrison, who uses one of the fleet can carry 100 passengers, the Governor-General has the other large aircraft, and there are a number of smaller aircraft that can be used to travel particularly to the region.

“They could be put in place now. To bring Australians home.”

While the returning passengers would have to go into quarantine when they return home, Mr Albanese has suggested this may even provide much needed support to the hotels that are facing financial difficulties as a result of border closures.

“What we know is that Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia have all said – if the Commonwealth assists with quarantine issues, that they are responsible for, then they would certainly encourage more people to come. It’s not like there’s a shortage of hotel space in this country,’’ Mr Albanese said.

“The Prime Minister might have noticed that tourists aren’t coming here and hotels certainly have available space. What’s more, those who staff these planes need to get up their flying hours. They need to get up their hours in the air, and therefore, if those people aren’t using those aircraft, they’ll be flying around empty making sure that pilots get the training.”

“And the Prime Minister can show leadership by giving his plane, which by and large is not being used at the moment, to bring Australians home.”

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Over 350,000 Australians have returned home since the Prime Minister urged Australians to return home earlier this year.

For many, the cost has run into the tens of thousands with many force to pay $10,000 or more for the flight to get home.

But for those left behind, the outlook is increasingly grim for those that can‘t get a flight home or get a job where they are living.

Earlier this month, the Morrison Government offered new loans to Australians in financial distress who are stranded overseas.

Those who are eligible will be able to apply for a repayable loan can borrow up to $2,000 while families will be able to apply for loans worth up to $5,000.

A one-off loan of up to $2,000 is also available to help cover the cost of an economy class flight home but in many cases the cost of the flights exceeds the loans.

“We do understand that many Australians have found themselves in difficult circumstances resulting from the pandemic and travel restrictions globally,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

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