Plan to lift arrival caps for Aussies stranded overseas
Australians stranded overseas amid the pandemic travel restrictions could be handed a lifeline after the states were asked to increase the numbers of returning travellers from 4000 to 6000 a week.
NSW will take the bulk of those flying home with almost half heading into quarantine here but none being directed to locked-down Victoria.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said NSW would agree to take the extra arrivals if other states stepped up and also took their share.
She said Prime Minister Scott Morrison "asked for NSW to take on an extra 500 travellers every week, which would mean that our daily cap would go from 350 to 420."
"If the other states agree to up their numbers, we will then also accommodate that," she said.
"So that would mean that Queensland and Western Australia would go from about 500 a week to 1000 a week, it would still only be about a third of what NSW is doing, but it certainly means they would be sharing the load more."
There are around 35,000 Aussies registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade overseas and more than 26,000 of those have said they want to come home. The government is particularly concerned about 3500 of those who are considered vulnerable.
The government has already stepped in to help Australians with medical conditions, students running out of money and heavily pregnant women with repatriation assistance.
Christos Lagoumitzis, 45, from La Perouse travelled to Athens, Greece in January to care for his elderly parents and has not been able to get home since.
Mr Lagoumitzis has been trying to secure a flight since March and said the government "should be doing more" to rescue Australians trapped overseas.
"As soon as ScoMo said to come back I booked a flight for July 14, several months ahead," Mr Lagoumitzis said.
"I was then rescheduled for August 31, before the airline then deleted the flight and rescheduled for October 26. I'm lucky because I get to stay with my parents for now, but it feels like my life's on hold because I imagined I'd be home in days, not months. I can't work over here, it's been very stressful."
Mr Morrison last month wrote a personal letter to Australians stranded abroad that appears to blame them for their struggles to return home.
He said the unique nature of the crisis is "why I asked Australians to return home on March 17, 2020".
His advice was followed by repeated warnings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
"If you decide to return to Australia, do so as soon as possible. Commercial options may become less available," DFAT said.
Mr Morrison's letter prompted an angry response. This week Labor leader Anthony Albanese called for the PM's official jet to be used to bring people home.
"The RAAF VIP fleet is largely sitting idle," he said.
However, there are still thousands of empty seats on commercial flights coming into Australia every week.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said yesterday: "It's been a very difficult situation for some trying to get home and we acknowledge that.
"I want to make sure that we do get more international flights into this country. I want to make sure that more Australians can return home. Every capital city airport has the capacity to do just that."
The announcement, which will be voted on by the National Cabinet tomorrow, was welcomed by Aussies overseas, including Australian resident Natascha Rieger, 30, and her seven-year-old son James who have been stranded in Bamberg, Germany since June.
German-born Ms Rieger is engaged to a Riverina farmer and lived there with him for several years before returning to Germany in January with James to finish her studies.
Ms Rieger's final exams made it "impossible" to come home when Australians were called back, and a flight she booked on June 7 for August 30 was cancelled just three days prior. She was worried a second flight home scheduled with Qatar Airways for October 23 would also be cancelled.
"My son gets really sad sometimes, he misses his dad," she said.
I was looking a rhinos in Africa, now bring me home
Brooke Saward has spent much of her young life travelling the world and while that was once a blessing, in the age of COVID-19 it has become a curse.
She is one of at least 25,000 Australians stranded overseas amid the pandemic travel restrictions.
Ironically, the so-called "influencer'' has built a strong social media following on the back of her travels but she has very little influence when it comes to finding a flight back home from South Africa.
Ms Saward, from Tasmania, said she has been left in a state of purgatory as she fast approaches her visa expiry date.
She moved to South Africa in November last year to spend time in her partner's home country while he applied for a partner visa in Australia.
Her visa required her to leave and re-enter that country every three months.
She blames her time in the wilderness chasing rhinos on the fact she was unable to keep up to date with travel warnings about the COVID-19 situation.
"I came back to South Africa on March 6 and there was not much coverage to suggest coronavirus was a big problem outside of Wuhan," she said.
"I went on a rhino conservation trip two days later and was out of reception for about 10 days. Only twice did I connect to Wi-Fi to read what was happening in the outside world.''
She claims she has kept a keen eye on repatriation flights and insists there have only been two bound for Australia.
She admitted she may have had a chance to return earlier but circumstances prevented her from doing so.
"I think it's a very comfortable position from within the borders of Australia to say, 'well, you had your chance to get home'.
"It wasn't as easy as just getting on a flight. I had a lease, I had so many obligations. I had a whole life here I needed to pack up.''
Originally published as Plan to lift arrival caps for Aussies stranded overseas