21 February 2021
There are two quarantine stories extant, one short-term, one long-term:
The Sun Herald front page story is ‘State Debt Collectors eye hotel millions’. It is about how 5264 invoices covering 7214 travellers who stayed at quarantine hotels have not paid and thus have to be chased for the money. The fact that they had to stay at these very expensive hotels for 2 weeks to be allowed to come home seems irrelevant. The fact that they may have had to stay in hotels for 9 months overseas in lockdown situations, had to come home on very expensive flights and may have no money and no job is also not mentioned. What might have been thought of as repatriating citizens caught in a situation that was not of their making is now a routine debt like a speeding fine, to be chased by the NSW government’s privately contracted debt collectors.
Meanwhile down in Victoria in today’s Age there is talk of building a quarantine hotel at Avalon Airport. Avalon airport was ex-RAAF and is about 3 hours from Melbourne (as I discovered to my cost when taking a Jetstar fight to Melbourne without looking where it landed). It is now owned by Linfox Transport group, and the Wagner Corporation of Townsville was keen to build the quarantine facility. When asked by an interviewer what accommodation would cost, Mr Wagner replied that this was ‘commercial in confidence’. There was none of this nonsense about giving arriving travellers a ‘fair go’; presumably such assurances are not necessary to get the contracts these days.
The colonial-era Manly Quarantine Station, which was saved from developers some years ago and remains in the dangerous situation of being a historic site in NSW used to have 3 levels of accommodation, for the rich, middle class and poor. At least the financial reality was recognised then.
Presumably backpackers who needed to come home would be happy to stay in backpacker accommodation, whereas some business folk really cannot manage less than the Ritz. But the government ought to make provision for Australians who want to come home and returning travellers needing to be quarantined should have the right to return without having to pay whatever a privatised accommodation facility chooses to charge them, without the government’s contribution being to unleash the debt collectors.