‘Betrayed’: Stranded Aussies slam ScoMo
Scott Morrison has "betrayed" Australians stuck overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Senate inquiry has heard.
The Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 sat on Thursday, reviewing the government's plans to allow Australians stranded overseas to return.
The Prime Minister said in September he was keen to get as many people as possible home before Christmas. Since then, the number has increased from 24,000 to 36,000.
The number of stranded Australians listed as "vulnerable" by DFAT had doubled to 8000 in five weeks.
Dave and Kate Jeffries are stuck in Canada with their young son Mitchell after flying to Canada in February to look after Mr Jeffries's mother who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Their return flights, booked for March 29, were cancelled on March 20. Multiple flights had since been cancelled, some at less than 24 hours notice, Mr Jeffries told the committee.
He said the couple "hopes to raise our son to have more respect for the truth than the Prime Minister of Australia".
"Living with the constant uncertainty of not knowing how or when we will be able to return home is exhausting," he said.
"We're simultaneously always leaving and never leaving.
"We feel abandoned and betrayed by the current policies of the Australian government … (and) we're growing increasingly angry at its unwillingness to implement safe alternatives that would allow us to return home.
"Australia remains the only country in the world with policies that are denying its citizens the right to return to their country. That is about as un-Australian as it gets."
He said the ordeal had taken a financial toll on the pair, with the couple continuing to pay bills in Australia. Those costs were now being mirrored in Canada, where they were paying rent, utilities, and had been forced to purchase expensive travel insurance, he said.
Ms Jeffries faced losing her job in Australia if the couple did not return by February, he added.
Mr Morrison insisted the government was making "good progress" on its commitments but warned it was constrained by quarantine capacity.
"I can assure you, Australia is moving everything we possibly can to get as many Australians home, but there are obviously understandable constraints to that because of the quarantine capacity." he said.
"State governments have requested to have caps on the number of arrivals who can come back in Australia, particularly in this time where quarantine is under pressure, and that is the greatest risk of transmission of the virus into Australia. We understand that."
The ACT will accept its first planeload of returning Australians when a repatriation flight from Singapore carrying 150 lands in Canberra on Thursday morning.
Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally welcomed the flight but said the government should be ramping up the number of flights arriving.
She told Sky News the biggest challenge facing repatriation was not flights but expanding quarantine capacity. Labor would support expanding commonwealth capacity to expedite the process, she confirmed.
Returning Australians were willing to pay a "reasonable cost" for their return, and it was the government's duty to facilitate it, Ms Keneally said.
She said the government's failure to deliver on its promise exposed Australians to an increased COVID threat during the northern hemisphere winter.
"These are Australians who were buoyed in September when the Prime Minister promised he would get them all home by Christmas. Since he made that promise, the list has only increased," she said.
"(This is) so emblematic of this prime minister: a big promise, no delivery and leaving Australians behind."
The comments come after news the federal government is spending more than $4000 an hour to fly Mathias Cormann on an RAAF jet as he campaigns to head the OECD. Mr Morrison said on Wednesday the expenditure was necessary because Mr Cormann "would have got COVID" on a commercial flight.
Ms Keneally said the revelation showed the government was not prioritising stranded Australians.
"If we can send a military plane to shoot Mathias Cormann around the globe so that he can apply for a new job, surely we can send military planes to bring our fellow Australians home," she said.
"What kind of government is this that has one rule for their mates and a whole other rule for everyone else that leaves stranded Australians behind?"
Originally published as 'Betrayed': Stranded Aussies slam ScoMo