Thoughts from a UN petitioning Stranded Aussie
I’ve taken a decision to try and help push this debate to the highest level, because we’re just not getting a fair go. There isn’t enough quarantine capacity in Australia at the state level which is resulting in flight caps at the federal level to meter the flow of people into that limited capacity. Commercial carriers are flying 777s across the oceans with just 30 people on board, and at exorbitant prices. I have lost count of the posts I’ve seen about people’s desperate struggles to return, flight cancellations and loved ones having passed away without people being able to be by their side.
At the same time, we are reading daily news stories about tennis players, TV and movie stars, and a lot of other celebrities getting a free ride into Australia while we are all sitting here unable to return to see sick and elderly loved ones, missing major family events and doing it tough after losing jobs, losing visa status, cannibalising our super just to stay afloat and getting pummeled at the mental health level.
But we are citizens. We have rights. And it turns out Australia is quite possibly breaking international law by effectively blocking us from being able to go home. Every one of us has a right to return to their own country. It turns out that Australia is probably in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was signed in 1980 by the Fraser government, which states that a citizen has a right to return to their own country.
So I stepped up to be a petitioner in a case that’s been brought to the UN Human Rights Committee about Australia’s probable breach of this Covenant.
To be clear, I am not political – I’m not a lawyer - I am in fact a scientist, but I’m also just a regular Aussie who has some very personal reasons to want to travel back to Australia right now. I also recognise that there are many, many of us around the world, including here in the US, who have needs just as equal, and sometimes far greater than my own.
Over the last week since we filed the petition, several dedicated stranded Aussies have been frantically drumming up media presence. This has been a lot harder than I would have thought. But they are starting to gain traction now with articles in The Australian and the New York Times, online via SBS, News.com.au, the BBC and we’re now getting onto TV with CNN having gone live. This is just the start.
Surely it’s time to take this to the next level? There are around 100,000 Aussies still abroad, all disconnected from their families (that’s the capacity of the MCG). Almost 40,000 of those are registered with DFAT for urgent return (that’s the capacity of the Gabba). Almost 5,000 of those are classed by Australia themselves as being vulnerable (OK - that’s only the Manly Oval, but it’s still a lot of people!). Getting all those people talking in unison is incredibly powerful and is something that only social media alone can achieve.
So this effort now needs your help. Everyone can sign up on strandedaussies.org and give their personal stories (the media links are all on here too). Everyone can contact other stranded Aussies and get them to do that too. Everyone can share everything far and wide on your social media. Everyone can contact family and friends back home and get them to talk to their Members of Parliament back in Australia and ask why this is happening to people they know and love.
The message is simple.
1. We need adequate quarantine capacity back in Australia that is funded appropriately, safe and working properly.
2. We need to be able to book quarantine slots at the same time we book our flights so we are assured we will be able to return on that date.
That’s it. Simple. Not too much to ask. Then……
3. This will expand the flight caps to adequate levels, which in turn will make flights cheaper and reduce flight cancellations.
4. Every Australian who needs to get home will be able to get home. And we will finally be getting a fair go.
But what about the risk of inadvertently taking Covid back to Australia? No one wants to see that. As a microbiologist myself I am very aware of the devastation that could do in a country that is almost completely naïve to the coronavirus. But in my opinion Australia has opted for the most extreme, almost draconian way of stopping that from happening. Other countries have been able to prevent community spread without locking its citizens out of the country. NZ, Taiwan and Iceland, have done it incredibly well. Even South Korea and Japan have managed it for the most part and successfully contained any small outbreaks.
Australia can do this too and to support this I’m sure we would all be happy to:
1. Get vaccinated (which I believe in as a scientist, but appreciate is a personal choice)
2. Present negative tests before boarding a flight
3. Wear masks all the way home
4. Go to quarantine
5. Participate in all required contact tracing
If we do this, I believe we present no risk to Australian public health as returning Australians.
But cases did leak out of quarantine I hear you say. Yes, they did, but that wasn’t the returning Australian’s fault. It was a problem with the quarantine model. That’s not good enough for the staff that work there, it’s not good enough for us and it’s not good enough for Australia.
I think it would be amazing to get this community to start speaking up about this. Our ability to get back home anytime soon will depend on it.
Jason - StrandedAussie in New Jersey