Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has called for government planes to be used to bring home thousands of Australians stranded overseas, claiming they are flying around empty at the moment.
“The RAAF VIP fleet is largely sitting idle,” he told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday. “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.
“They could be put in place now to bring Australians home.”
There are estimated to be up to 100,000 Australians currently overseas who are looking to come home during the coronavirus pandemic, but quarantine caps and limited numbers on each flight allowed into the country have combined to bump thousands off flights they booked months ago – some now living with no job, no stable home and no way to ensure they make it home.
Mr Albanese pointed out the government planes were flying around empty as pilots of those planes needed to keep up their flying hours.
“Therefore, if those people (Mr Morrison and the Governor-General) aren’t using those aircraft, they’ll be flying around empty making sure that pilots get the training that they need and other air force personnel get the training and hours that they need,” he said.
“There is nothing to stop those planes being used at the moment, and this is a very practical measure which the Government could take.”
The Labor leader called for arrival caps to expand immediately, noting the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland were happy to increase their intake of returned travellers and hotels were also sitting relatively empty.
“The Prime Minister might have noticed that tourists aren‘t coming here and hotels certainly have available space,” he said.
“It is just beyond my comprehension how the Prime Minister can tonight duck and weave from responsibility on this issue.”
The states and territories of Australia have been able to set their own caps on arrivals through the National Cabinet, which has been meeting every two weeks throughout the pandemic.
But Mr Albanese said that should not be the case, arguing international arrivals are the sole responsibility of the Federal Government.
“The Commonwealth is in charge of our national borders,” he said, labelling the current situation “absurd”.
“The Commonwealth has passed off more and more responsibilities to the states. But it is common sense which tells you the states are not in charge of our national borders and are not in charge of who comes in to this country by aeroplane.
“The national government is.”