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Former Australian Federal Police officer questions legality of making returned travellers pay for hotel quarantine

Returning overseas travellers are ushered into a hotel for the beginning of their 14-day imposed quarantine in Sydney. (Representational image). Source: AAP/Jeremy Piper

Chris Douglas, an anti-money-laundering consultant and former AFP officer has written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiring whether charging returned travellers for the mandatory hotel quarantine is in breach of consumer law.

Mr Douglas who has served with the AFP for 31 years has questioned the “fairness” of recovering quarantine costs from Australians caught up in the public health crisis created by COVID-19.

He questions “The fairness of recovering costs from people caught up in a public health issue, when in Australia no person pays for the cost of treatment or service received from any public health or medical institution or pays for the cost of their detention.

“So why then if they are arriving as Australian citizens, do they have to pay for their own quarantine costs? It is contradictory and poor policy,” says the Perth-based consultant.


Highlights:

  • Former AFP officer questions legality of requiring returned travellers to pay for hotel quarantine
  • Chris Douglas has written to ACCC inquiring whether paid quarantine breaches consumer law
  • Petition to repeal paid quarantine and flight caps has reached over 3,000 signatures

Mr Douglas, who has himself just recovered from COVID-19 after returning from South Africa earlier this year, has also reached out to the state jurisdictions for clarification on the matter.

Chris Douglas
Former AFP officer, Chris Douglas
Supplied

“The measures introduced to date are based on advice from leading health experts. The NSW Government is closely monitoring the situation and will continue to do whatever it takes to safeguard the community,” the NSW government said in its response.

The 61-year-old is now awaiting a response from the ACCC on his request for a probe into the matter.

“They have acknowledged my request. If it is found that it does violate the consumer law, then the government should pay for the quarantine costs because it’s a mandatory requirement imposed upon people during a public health issue,” he adds.

All returning travellers into the country are now required to pay around $3,000 for hotel quarantine depending on their landing destination – a measure that was introduced to ease pressure on the quarantine system.

While there is a provision to seek exemption from quarantine for passengers who are facing hardships or who have booked flights before a certain date, these charges and conditions vary from state to state.

'Unfair and unaffordable'

Mr Douglas isn’t the only one who has voiced concerns against the government’s quarantine measures.

Hundreds of Australian citizens and permanent residents stranded outside the country have rallied together and petitioned the federal government against paid quarantine and stringent flight caps – which has already garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

Repatriation flight
Chetna Gill with her sons.
Supplied

Among those is Brisbane-based single mum Chetna Gill who remains stranded in north Indian state of Punjab along with her two sons, ever since the borders were snapped shut in March.

Having spent thousands of dollars on return tickets, Ms Gill who has recently lost her job says she is stretched well beyond her means and is in no position to afford hotel quarantine for her family of three.

“We are not getting any coronavirus supplements, I have no source of income and I have already spent $9,000 on our tickets to India. On top, I am still paying for my rent, utility bills, and my children’s’ education besides maintaining our stay here,” she says.

Imploring for mercy flights, Ms Gill adds that the Australian government should not penalise those stuck offshore at a time when they are already mired by the consequences of an ongoing health crisis.

“I would need at least $6,000 for return tickets to Australia, and at least $5,000 for quarantine- so, $11,000 just to return home. It’s unfair and unaffordable.

“Please don’t penalise us at a time when we are already mired by the consequences of an ongoing health crisis. Either send mercy flights or remove the caps and cost of quarantine so we can come home at the earliest,” she implores.

Click on the player in the lead image above to listen to the interview in Punjabi.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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