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Tennis players allowed in but Australians still stranded overseas a ‘slap in the face’ – a must read.

January 28, 2021 Coronavirus (Covid-19), Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

A report in by Maddy King of Triple J Hack on ABCs’ website tells the very sad tale of Holly Bucknell, an Australian stranded in the UK, who feels like the economy has been prioritised over citizens getting home, the feeling of many Australians stranded all over the world and all because their government will not resolve this serious constitutional crisis, with Australians having the undeniable right to get back to their own country, which their own government preventing them doing so and which the Australian Government needs to resolve…and right now!

On to Maddy King’s report…


Every morning, Holly wakes up in a small town in the English countryside, and checks to see whether her flight home to Australia has been cancelled.

She’s kind of expecting it.

She’s been bumped once already, from a flight that was supposed to leave next week.

And she’s heard of other people having their Qatar flights cancelled with only 24 hours’ notice.

The 19-year-old has been trying to get home since October.

“I don’t want to be in this waiting game,” she told Hack.

And time is running out.

She has to be back in Australia by early Feb to start her first year of a forensic science degree in Sydney.

Having already deferred it once, she’s worried she might lose her place if she can’t be there for the start of the course and all its practical components.

If something happens with the flight she has booked, things become really tricky.

Her savings are running down, she doesn’t have work, and the friend’s house she’s staying in will need to be rented out soon.

Holly said she was shocked to see 1,200 tennis players and their staff arrive in Australia over the last week, getting preference over Australian citizens.

“It is so disgraceful, it is just like a complete slap in the face from the Government,” she said.

“It’s them just essentially saying, ‘We care more about our economy and a tennis competition than we do about our own citizens’.”

Their arrival has frustrated many of the 38,000 Australians still stranded overseas, and trying to get home.

Around 5,000 of them are classified as vulnerable.

Earlier in the week, the PM Scott Morrison said the Australian Open players had not bumped returning citizens from places in quarantine, adding, “I can tell you that there’s been no allowances made that would enable people who are waiting to get here from overseas.”  “Their places are not being taken by tennis players”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in a statement to the ABC they’ve helped 39,000 Australians return home since March last year.

But over the last two weeks, it’s become even harder to get home.

The number of arrivals has dropped dramatically since the PM announced caps on international flights would be reduced, to help deal with the more infectious strain of COVID coming out of the UK.

Back to Holly…2020 was not the gap year Holly had imagined.

When she arrived in the UK in January last year, she’d envisioned summer holidays across Europe, going to festivals, making new mates, and living in a city very different to the small country town she was from.

That all came crashing down one night in March, when she was working a shift at a pub in Kings Cross in London.

A mate sent her an article that said all Australians travelling overseas should return home as soon as possible.

She called her mum back in Australia, at 3 am.

“And I was crying and freaking out saying, ‘Mum, Mum, I need to come home. What am I going to do?’.”

They talked it over and realised it’d be too expensive for her to come home early, especially in those early days when they thought the pandemic would be over by the summer.

There were other factors at play too.

If she did come home, there likely wouldn’t be many jobs going near her family property in central NSW.

The family she was working for as an au pair in London really needed her for childcare, as they continued to work full time through the pandemic.

And she wasn’t just on a six-week backpacking trip. She was living in London.

“You cannot tell someone, you know, a week before a national lockdown, ‘Pick up everything and get out’,” said Holly.

“I’m not a traveller. I’m a resident. I have a residency permit. I pay taxes to the UK.”

Hack has covered these stories before of essential workers who stayed to help with the pandemic; of Australians who couldn’t afford flights back, or stayed away fearing they’d bring the virus home to vulnerable loved ones.

Many Australians overseas are frustrated with the ‘traveller’ label.

“I think that the Government has kind of villainised us and made us look like the bad guys when, really, we just want to come home,” said Holly.

“And they’ve turned us into people who look like we just took an extended holiday. But that’s just not the case at all.”

“We shouldn’t be the ones copping all the hate comments online.”

Some Australians Hack spoke with for this article were reluctant to be involved in any kind of online coverage, fearing the trolls and negativity on social media.

State and Federal Governments both deny responsibility

In desperation, Holly reached out to her local federal MP last week – the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

A staff member handled Holly’s enquiry, expressing sympathy for her situation. But ultimately they said the issue was a state and territory responsibility, and she’d need to contact the NSW Premier’s office for assistance.

So she did and was told by the Parliamentary Secretary, on behalf of Gladys Berejiklian, that it was a Commonwealth issue, “This matter falls within the portfolio administration of Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I have forwarded a copy of your correspondence to the Minister for her information and consideration,” the Secretary wrote.

Holly said she felt frustrated by both responses.

“It’s just getting completely passed around and there’s no responsibility for whose problem it actually is,” she said.

“There’s no direction. There’s no there’s no help. There’s just – ‘Oh, not our problem’.”

It’s murky territory, with many of the decisions about flight caps and borders made during National Cabinet meetings – with the PM, and state and territory leaders.

Over the weekend, the Government announced they’d be arranging 20 more commercial repatriation flights over the next two months.

When the first round of repatriation flights were released in November last year, Holly had already paid $1,200 for her flight home.

She couldn’t afford, and nor could her family, another $2,000 for a seat on one of the government flights in case that first flight was cancelled (it was).

But she was keen to secure a seat on one of the new repatriation flights, despite the extra cost.

The first round went on sale a few hours after Hack spoke to Holly. They sold out in ten minutes. She missed out.

The last few weeks have been tough for Holly, missing Christmas and seeing everyone at home living life pretty normally, while the UK grapples with its worst wave of COVID yet.

“I have really, really struggled over the last couple of weeks,” she said.

“I’m just trying to kind of do what I can to get home … and just trying to stay as positive as possible.”


GTM comment: Our Government has to do better – this is simply not good enough.

What do you think?  Let us know in the comment box below.

 

An edited report from Triple J Hack and ABC by John Alwyn-Jones

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Frank Perry says:

    I am so over “there are 35000 Australians stranded overseas trying to get home. Some six months ago there was touted that 23000 were stranded overseas trying to get home and there have been some 3 – 5000 per week coming home since then. Will someone please do the maths and tell me why I don’t understand.

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