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Why Australia Should Stop Demonising Those Who Want To Travel

"People aren't flying the coop for frivolity."

The mojitos are always better on the forbidden side of the infinity pool.

That’s the selfish basket many Australians have been cast in over the last year or so, as they dare to question our international travel ban.

However, once you realise how significant a decision it is to leave right now, it hits you – most people aren’t trying to fly the coop for fun.

I’m as guilty as anyone about casually “wishing we could travel again.” But after a recent first-hand experience of requesting an exemption to leave the country for urgent reasons (and being rejected), I saw how glib my thinking was.

Is it sad that I couldn’t empathise with this issue until it affected me personally? Yep. But that’s people (well, me) for you.

Anyway… With return economy flights to say, Europe, starting at $4,000 (if you’re very lucky), and, depending on your dates, many skyrocketing up to the $7,000 – $17,000 mark, there is a huge financial barrier to going overseas at this time.

That’s not taking into account the $3,000 mandatory hotel quarantine on your return, the risk of getting stuck and having your bank account (and employment opportunities) dwindle away overseas, and the risk of getting COVID-19 in a foreign country, needing medical assistance, and not being covered by insurance.

At the time of writing, no Australian insurers, to DMARGE’s knowledge, will cover you for anything to do with COVID-19.

World Nomads states on its FAQ page, “There is NO COVER available for travel to any country or part of it with a COVID-19 travel ban, and any events that arise when you travel against any Australian government travel bans or Do No Travel warnings.”

Though Etihad has a wellness insurance policy, which for trips booked (and flown) up until the 30th of September 2021, promises to take care of your medical expenses and (to a degree) unexpected hotel and quarantine costs, its return flights at the time of writing are well up around $7,000 to $15,000 (for the sake of consistency of comparison, to Europe) depending on how soon you need to travel.

Suffice to say: it’s hard to imagine leaving the country and coming back, even if everything goes to plan, for less than $7,000 (and that’s going with a cheaper airline that doesn’t have COVID-19 wellness insurance). If you want to go with an airline that gives you wellness insurance, the cost jacks up to around $9,000 to $20,000 (depending on the date).

The upshot? People trying to leave the country right now aren’t doing so for fun (if they are, you can be sure they are rich, and their request will be denied).

As journalist Ben Groundwater wrote in Traveller in April: “There are so many people in this nation of migrants who have deep, personal connections to the outside world, who have lives overseas, who have relationships, who have people they’re close to.”

“It’s much easier to argue for a hermetically sealed nation if you just pretend the only people who want to leave Australia or return are selfish, privileged holidaymakers,” he added.

“Australia remains the world’s only liberal democracy with a blanket ban on its citizens leaving its shores. Even Kiwi citizens can leave if they want to,” (Traveller).

As Lawyers Weekly wrote in August 2020, “There was little protest in mainstream media against this travel ban when it was first announced in March 2020. However, as the pandemic has dragged on, many news outlets have drawn attention to how the outward travel ban is tearing families apart.”

Lawyers Weekly also claimed: “Australia’s outward travel ban may be in violation of Australia’s obligations under the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”

They explain: “Australia ratified the ICCPR in 1980. Therefore, Australia is legally bound to uphold the rights in this treaty with respect to anyone on Australia’s territory or subject to Australia’s jurisdiction.”

However, as University of NSW law professor George Williams told Traveller last year, any challenge to this would be speculative because that international standard is not enforceable and does not form part of Australia’s domestic laws.

Overall, legal experts speaking to Traveller have said Australia’s exit ban is legally sound, despite there being one side of it someone with beefy legal and financial resources might be able to challenge.

According to Traveller, “The travel ban falls under Section 477 of the Biosecurity Act 2015 which gives the Health Minister power to make rules restricting people or things ‘entering or leaving specified places.'”

The legislation, however, carries an important caveat, which is that the rules must be “no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the circumstances.”

Monash University associate professor Luke Beck told Traveller addressing this clause would be “the most obvious way” to challenge the exit ban.

Until someone legally proves  Australia’s blanket ban is more restrictive than necessary (a tricky one considering Australia’s strict measures are widely credited with our incredibly low numbers of COVID-19), or until we find a way to process returning travellers more quickly (there are still thousands stuck abroad), it seems unlikely passenger caps regarding how many can enter the country (and how many can leave) will change.

New Zealand could be a good example to look at – being one of the few countries in the world with similarly low rates of COVID-19 as Australia, but without a blanket ban on international travel.

Airline prices will also not go down until volume goes up.

Speaking of airlines – the latest Qantas news might give us a hint about when our clogged system might start flowing more freely.

9News reports, “Qantas has pushed back its planned return to widespread international flights by two months because of a slower-than-anticipated national COVID-19 vaccine rollout.”

“The airline had planned to begin regular international flights from the end of October, but has pushed it back to the end of December.”

“This is in light of the Federal Government revising its anticipated timeline for Australia’s vaccine rollout, which has been far slower than forecast,” (9News).

Facebook comments beneath the aforementioned Traveller article showcase a variety of perspectives on the matter, among the Australian public.

“So many partners are separated and families,” one wrote. “This is not our human rights. Covid will always be around. Not everyone will get the vaccine. Need a better solution.”

“This might be infuriating, another said. “But has to be legal, and a responsibility of a federal government.
There are exemption provisions, but the capacity for quarantine is insufficient.”

“I’m not stranded; I don’t have family medical worries. I’m not happy to be confined to Australia, but that isn’t the end of the world, and I can live with it.”

Further comments included:

“Even where de virus is originated people are free to travel every where anytime …Australia is barrage.”

“It says if you leave for over 3 months you can get an exemption…anyone kmow anything about this?”

“Yes a lot are asking to leave for 3 months are getting exemptions to see loved ones etc.”

“No i wasnt allowed to no reasons given.”

“No exemption for me. I’d been out of Australia for 18mths before arriving back 8 days before the border shut. My partner and my home is in Indonesia, and I want to leave for a minumum of six months. Was rejected on Monday.”

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