Last week Danny Englman, Director of Leisure Travel, shared his views with Travel Daily (Australia’s leading travel publication) on the importance of setting up a framework to assist thousands of travellers stranded overseas.
In Australia we are facing one of the largest humanitarian crises that we have ever seen in this country. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) recently said at least 28,000 Australian nationals are stranded overseas.
The truth is that this figure is just the tip of the iceberg, as it is only the people that they actually know about. It does not include countless others who have not registered with DFAT and it definitely does not take into account the thousands of people who desperately need to leave Australia for the most urgent of reasons – caring for sick relatives, saying goodbye to dying loved ones, dealing with child custody issues – but cannot risk travelling as they will not be able to return in the foreseeable future.
Yes, I know these people are not starving in refugee camps, but nevertheless their needs are very pressing, and we should be putting in place a framework to assist them. The greatest travesty of this crisis is that it is totally avoidable, even in this current COVID era, with very minimal risk.
There is no doubt that our current hotel quarantine system needs to be overhauled to make for a more streamlined approach. We hear the Prime Minister talking of various different options for this, but even with the system operating under the current form we can solve this issue almost immediately! The sad reality is that NSW is the only state that is really doing anything truly tangible for this country in this regard.
I am embarrassed to say that my own state of Victoria is not accepting a single person and other states, Qld, WA & SA, are taking token amounts of people so they can claim politically to the public to be doing something. The result of this is a huge backlog that is growing worse by the day.
To make matters even worse, the airlines that currently do operate some of the routes are pulling out because they view them as no longer commercially viable – such as Etihad, which suspended its Brisbane flights just last week. This is just adding to the backlog because now those passengers who did have confirmed seats now have had them cancelled as well, and they too must join the waitlist.
The time has come that we stand together as a country to fix this. We are all Australians, not just parochial residents of each state.
We know we can achieve this and owe it to our fellow countrymen to do what is necessary to get them home. We know this is true, but for some reason our leaders do not. What truly amazes me is that these state leaders do not realise that it is their own state residents that are stranded! We are a country built on “mateship” and looking out for each other. This is not just jingoist flag waiving talk; this is the reality of our shared history. We are a nation of immigrants who came here for a better life and therefore cared about the country we were part of.
In both peacetime and war, we have always prevailed because of our commitment to each other. We created the legends of the ANZACS, of Kokoda and of Long Tan. We were there helping out in Aceh, East Timor and Bali when needed. We all have etched in our minds the images of the long convoys of CFA, CFS, RFS vehicles carrying volunteers across state borders to assist each other every single bushfire season.
The current situation is so much easier than all other humanitarian missions, because no one is actually asking for any handouts – they are pretty much all willing to pay their own way, and all they need is the framework to make this happen. We can definitely do this!
We are currently accepting around 6,000 people a week into the country. If we work out a proper system correctly with a unified national approach, but administered locally, we could achieve an ambitious target in the vicinity of 15,000 a week. The benefits of doing this right will mean that even under this current COVID environment our people can travel safely to and from Australia if they need to for any urgent reason, whilst at the same time the rest of the country remains safe. The secondary benefit of this is a huge injection of capital into the travel and hospitality industry, without any government assistance.
• Travel agents will once again be able to book some international travel and repatriate citizens.
• Hotels/resorts in or around major cities will have the opportunity to once again make some revenue from returning passengers.
• Private MICE companies could be brought in with their expertise to assist governments with logistics. (Obviously police/ADF & health officials need to oversee safety and security).
• Countless other industries like catering, transport, cleaning, etc would be stood up once again.
We have the capacity, we have the know-how, we have the expertise and most importantly we have the will to help each other out.
All we need from our political leaders is to assist to put together a framework to make it happen.
So, the message to our national and state leaders is – we are ready to make this a reality – let’s do this!
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