OPINION | Just trying to get home

Photo: Just Trying to Get Home

Photo: Just Trying to Get Home

You may have heard a bit in the news about 'flight caps'.

To most of us, it probably sounds sensible - to carefully limit and control the number of entries to Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, so as to make sure the virus doesn't spread, the system isn't overloaded and quarantine can be provided.

But if you think about it a bit more, a few questions may emerge.

What about the (reportedly upwards of) 100,000 Australians who are waiting overseas to get on a plane?

How do they live if they have wound up their affairs overseas and have no home or job, and have been repeatedly, and without warning, bumped from flights?

If other countries have rescued plane-loads of stranded citizens, why can't we?

Why are exceptions being made for the powerful and famous?

Why do people who can afford the atrociously inflated seat prices get to jump the queue?

Why is hotel quarantine - with all it's deficiencies - being used, when people already in Australia who actually have the virus can isolate at home?

Many other countries have improved their quarantining systems, and doing so would reduce the load on hotels. Bracelets, heavy fines, shorter stays in quarantine due to on-arrival testing, and self-isolation for those coming from countries with lower infection rates than Australia should all be considered.

By now most of us have heard the stories of those left hammering on the (figurative) doors to get in, many of them penniless and homeless, some with awful tales of desperate dashes overseas to visit sick relatives, only to be stranded by the virus in a foreign land.

The thing that sticks in my craw, though, is the heartless way many Australians have responded to their plight.

Read the comments on any of these social media posts and you'll be stunned (I hope).

"It's all their own fault," they say. "They should have come home earlier."

Putting aside that many of them tried to do just that, only to face border closures or flight restrictions (or who couldn't fly due to illness, late pregnancy or any number of reasonable explanations), I feel like there's a sort of grim schadenfreude at work.

"How dare these people with the money to travel the world cry poor now?" is the underlying sentiment seeping through the cracks.

Geez, everyone, have a heart. Where's that famous Aussie fair go?

This post on the Facebook page Just Trying to Get Home sums it up well:

I feel overwhelmingly angry when I hear Scott Morrison repeatedly say he "asked Australians to return home on March 17" (according to the generic letter his office sends us).

On March 17, Covid-19 was rampant in Europe - I followed DFAT's advice to stay put as we had secure jobs and as an asthmatic it was already too risky to be flying.

On March 17 I had been mobilised to work on the Covid-19 response. I was proud to be an Australian helping the UK survive the crisis.

On March 17 my mum didn't know she had advanced stage 4 cancer.

On March 17, I didn't know the Australian Government would decide that seeing my dying mum would be a luxury, not a right.

On March 17, I didn't realise that Australia - my country, my home - would decide that I was somehow less Australian because I wasn't in Australia.

How disingenuous of the government to put it like that.

More than disingenuous - blatantly unfair.

Even the airlines have had enough.

The industry body representing international airlines has warned its members will have no choice but to stop flying to Australia if arrival caps aren't increased.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said on last week that its members "cannot be expected" to "continue indefinitely with such flights on a commercial basis".

We all know there is a problem.

Basic maths would tell you that: 100,000 into a handful of sparsely seated flights per day just doesn't go.

So what we therefore need is a different solution. One that controls the flow in to a reasonable degree, but that prioritises on the basis of need rather than the ability to pay top dollar, and in sufficient numbers so that the airlines don't throw down their bat and ball and walk away.

We can all agree we need to be careful about entries to Australia.

But there are other ways to do that without the pitting rich against poor, and Aussie against Aussie.