Seventeen travellers from New Zealand leave Melbourne Airport in a breach of the trans-Tasman bubble

Victorian and federal authorities have sparred over an incident that saw 17 travellers from New Zealand slip into Melbourne after arriving via Sydney yesterday.

A flight lands at Melbourne Airport, Sunday, April 12, 2020

A flight lands at Melbourne Airport, Sunday, April 12, 2020 Source: AAP

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he's “disappointed” and "frustrated" more than a dozen travellers from New Zealand were allowed to leave Melbourne Airport and enter the community on Friday evening after arriving via Sydney.

The 17 passengers had landed in Australia on Friday as part of the first group of trans-Tasman travellers.

From Sydney, they then allegedly caught a connecting flight to Melbourne, which is not currently accepting travellers as part of the bubble.

In a statement released late on Friday night, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services said its authorised officers do not have legal authority to detain the travellers.

“Victoria has not agreed to a travel bubble arrangement with New Zealand and did not expect to receive international travellers as a result of NSW making that arrangement,” the DHHS statement said.

The Australian Border Force declined to comment and said it was a matter for Victorian authorities.

Melbourne Airport referred SBS News back to the DHHS. NSW Health said enquiries should be directed to the federal Department of Health.

The federal Department of Health and Sydney Airport have also been contacted for comment.

Mr Andrews told a media conference late on Saturday morning the travellers left the airport "within minutes" and the state government was waiting for ABF to provide passenger cards for each of the 17 travellers.

"As soon as we get that detail, we will be visiting each of those people and making sure that they are fully up to date, as it were, when it comes to the rules, the regulations, the structures that we have in Victoria," he told reporters.

Mr Andrews said he was confident of getting to the bottom of the issue by the end of Saturday and he did not think the travellers necessarily needed to be tested for COVID-19, given they had come from a country with no community transmission.

But he said he remained frustrated by the incident.

"The frustrating thing is we don't know where these people are, who they are, what their reason for travelling was, or have any confidence that they know there are rules in place in Victoria," he said.

Ironically, acting immigration minister Alan Tudge held a press conference in Canberra about an hour later to announce an upcoming digital system to replace Australia’s incoming passenger cards.

Mr Tudge said the federal government received Victoria’s request for the 17 travellers’ passenger cards at 8am and they were delivered to the state government at midday.

He also accused Mr Andrews of trying to manufacture a distraction from his handling of Victoria’s coronavirus crisis.

Electronic signage for Virgin Australia domestic departure flights is seen at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne, Tuesday, April 21, 2020.
Source: AAP

The government hopes the digital system to be in place by this time next year to allow more efficient coronavirus contact tracing once international borders reopen. The system would also allow a vaccine certificate to be attached to a travellers profile once one is globally available, Mr Tudge said. 

Liberal MP Tim Wilson said earlier on Saturday morning he didn’t have any problems with what happened.

“I don’t really understand what the issue is,” he told the ABC.

“New South Wales are accepting flights as part of the trans-Tasman bubble from New Zealand. There is no quarantine obligations when people go from New South Wales into Victoria. There is in reverse.”

Quarantine capacity expanded 

Meanwhile, more Australians are preparing to arrive home next week after being stuck overseas because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nation's quarantine capacity has been expanded after the federal government and the Northern Territory reached a deal that allows a mining camp south of Darwin to be used for returned travellers.

Eight Qantas repatriation flights will arrive from London, New Delhi and Johannesburg over coming weeks.

The quarantine deal will stretch until March, allowing up to 5,000 people to see out their 14 days' mandatory isolation at the Howard Springs facility over that time.

However, there are still more than 29,000 Australians trying to come home, with about 3,000 considered vulnerable. Those deemed vulnerable will have first priority for the flights.

Additional reporting by AAP.

Published 17 October 2020 at 7:43am, updated 17 October 2020 at 12:58pm
By Evan Young