Albo’s grand plan to rescue Aussies
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has urged the Federal Government to deploy Royal Australian Air Force jets usually reserved for VIPs to pick up and bring home thousands of Australians still stranded overseas.
Mr Albanese's comments come as the Federal Government said it was asking state and territory leaders to take more incoming Australians so it can raise the incoming arrival cap by another 2000 a week.
Mr Albanese said he supported lifting strict limits on numbers of incoming arrivals - which are currently capped at 4000 a week - that have led to massive delays and skyrocketing airfares on flights to Australia amid COVID-19.
Mr Albanese told ABC's News Breakfast there were plenty of RAAF aircraft, which were usually used to fly VIPs such as the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and visiting dignitaries, that were "sitting idle" during the pandemic and could be put to use.
"By and large, the Prime Minister (and) the Governor-General, like other Australians, aren't travelling interstate at moment," Mr Albanese said.
"There aren't a shortage of planes that are sitting idle at the moment. There also has never been more hotel space.
"What we have is a Prime Minister saying, 'It is all too hard'. There is 25,000 Australians stranded. We know many of them are absolutely desperate to get home."
Nine Newspapers reports the RAAF fleet includes three Bombardier Challenger 604s and two Boeing 737 business jets that operate at a cost of around $4600 an hour.
Mr Albanese said he supported lifting the 4000-a-week cap on arrivals, and suggested the government revisit remote and offshore quarantine facilities, which were used in the early days of the pandemic, to help host returned travellers.
"The Northern Territory yesterday, for example, pointed out that they have a facility that can fit up to 3000 people just outside of Darwin. It was used earlier on. Christmas Island was used earlier on," he said.
"There are a whole range of Commonwealth facilities in addition to hotel space (and) Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have all said they're prepared to do more with some support from the Commonwealth.
"It seems to me that the only thing that's lacking here is national leadership. Scott Morrison is in a position to do so, and that's underlined by the fact that he does have access to RAAF aircraft."
A Federal Government spokesperson told the ABC the weekly cap on arrivals was dictated by the number of people states and territories were willing to host in hotel quarantine.
This morning Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the Federal Government had asked state and territory leaders to take more Australians returning from overseas so it could lift the weekly arrivals cap from 4000 to 6000.
"At the moment there are about 4000 coming home per week. I want to raise that to 6000. I have written to premiers and chief ministers to make that possible," Mr McCormack said.
Earlier, Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram said he expected the availability of commercial flights to Australia would increase when the number of available beds in hotel quarantine increased.
It comes a week after the boss of Qatar Airways, which has already brought home more than 180,000 Australians from overseas, urged Australia to relax arrival caps or it may be forced to pull flights.
"We have between 38 and 42 seats in our business class. And because we have such a limited number of passengers that we can carry, we have no other alternative but to maximise the yield that we get because you know very well Australia is at the end of the world," chief executive Akbar Al Baker told the ABC.
"It is a very long flight and when we carry limited numbers of passengers you can see that it puts a huge strain on our costs."
Australians overseas have complained about getting bumped from flights multiple times, sometimes within hours of departure, as airlines such as Qatar prioritise higher-paying passengers so they can stay profitable sending mostly empty planes on the long and costly routes.