• Aisling Salisbury

Australia's Hotel Quarantine is Price Gouging

Updated: Feb 16

My next post was going to be about Victoria's Hotel Quarantine bungle. However, during my research, I discovered something else that was, not as disastrous, but just as disgraceful and it covers all the states and they can not be allowed to continue with this. The cost of Hotel Quarantine is nothing more than price-gouging and places an unfair cost on to many vulnerable Aussies.


Some background here first.


Australia being an island nation with the incredible vastness and some of the strictest border controls of any country you would think it would be easy to prevent something like COVID spreading or even arriving into the country. Well, it still arrived. Australian's love to travel, like my favourite song, states . . .

"I'm always travelling, I love being free, And so I keep leaving the sun and the sea, But my heart lies waiting over the foam, I still call Australia home."

Australian's love to travel, it's inbuilt into our DNA. So with many Aussies overseas on their holidays, there was a high chance that some could get infected whilst overseas and bring it home. So on the 15th of March, the Federal Government announced that everyone arriving from overseas must self-isolate at home for 14 days. Effectively, fly-in, hop in your car, Uber or Taxi, stay in your house for 14 days and order takeaway and home delivery for groceries. You were presented with two declarations when you arrived in Australia. The standard Customs and Immigration one and an Isolation Declaration.

I can assure you the document wasn't that large, but it required you to list the address you would be staying at for the next 14 days. You agreed to stay there and that you would be subjected to harsh fines if you didn't stay at where declared you would.

The rules announced did come into effective from midnight that day. So a lot of people winging their way home, some who had decided to cancel the rest of their trip, got quite a shock when they arrived in Australia to discover they must be under self-house-arrest. How the people of Victoria would be laughing at how unfair this seemed at the time.


I returned home to Australia on March 26th so I was provided with these documents and was fortunate that I still had my Melbourne home to live in. I had my parents stock up my fridge before I arrived and if I needed anything then I would ask the folks to go to the supermarket. They would drop the supplies off with my building's concierge and he would bring it up, knock on the door, we had an agreement that I would wait at least two minutes and then collect. The same for any take out food.

Well, this is what was meant to be done, however, by the afternoon of March 26th the PM announced that from the 28th of March

"States and territories will be quarantining all arrivals through our airports in hotels and other accommodation facilities for the two weeks of their mandatory self-isolation before they are able to return to their home".

No more quarantining at home, but you would be placed under the temporary care of the Health Department, put up in a hotel for 14 days before returning home. This came into place because, unlike myself, many people simply weren't self-isolating at home correctly. They were either staying at home, but housemates or family under the same roof would continue their lives. Seriously? How dumb! Even a lot of folk at my former company in the US who were also planning their returns to Australia had no idea that "self-isolate" meant no contact with anyone, even under the same roof. One gentleman, I spoke to was surprised when I said "if you're going home to the wife and kid, you do understand that they join your quarantine right?" he was shocked when I said this. May we not forget that back in March we thought that this was the "Doomsday Virus" so seriously people if you had it you were a hazard to everyone you came into contact with. So why would you want to expose your family to it?


Ultimately though I will criticise the Federal Government over the first programme, it was a fantastic idea but rushed and if anything was a PR stunt to show Australian's "we are protecting you". But the states and enforcement agencies had very little time to prepare for it. Even when I arrived home nearly two weeks after the initial announcement of "you must stay at home" I got a call from the police on day 13, that's right day 13 of my quarantine. The police officer asked me:


"Do you live here and are quarantining here?"


"Ah not really?"


"Ok then, I'm outside that address. So where are you?"


I explained the situation. That address was my parent's house and that I was at my apartment many suburbs away. I had declared this address, on my incoming form. So why was the police officer going off my driver's license? For the record, I got a new license before I left for the US, so I added my parents address as my apartment was being AirBnb'ed and subleased out whilst I was away. So I had all my official documents listed as my parent's address whilst I was overseas. The officer informed me that they were only provided with the following by Border Force, the person, passport number and phone number. Not the address of where that person declared they'd be? So the police officer could only go off a driver's license. No wonder people weren't being found during the spot checks. No communication or logs of the addresses to be handed to the local authorities and if they were logged by Border Force, the local authorities weren't provided with the details.

It's not surprising that the Hotel Quarantine programme came in then. I do think it was the right procedure to go with and it also kept many hotel's open during a time when their trade had dried up. But doing this supervised quarantine was far superior because it meant that those inside the hotel, if done right, could be frequently checked by health officials and it ensured the spread would be contained within the four walls of a hotel room if someone was infected. I think this was a great move in keeping Australian's safe. The fault though was that all of the State's Premiers and Chief Ministers would be responsible for it. It left it open for each state to do its own thing. There was no uniform approach to it. Although the Federal Government offered the Military to assist the States with the programme it was only taken up by some states and others didn't. Some states gave the power of this quarantine to the State's Health Department or Police Minister but some opted for an entirely untrained, private enterprise. More on that to come. But the cost would be borne by the State Government of where you quarantined. This I don't understand, when it was announced it sounded as if all State Governments would contribute to the programme or if a Queenslander was quarantined in a Western Australian hotel then the cost of that would be invoiced to Queensland. That's what it sounded like, however, that was not the case. Instead, the state doing the quarantine bore the cost. When ultimately international arrivals were restricted to the eastern seaboard only, that is a massive unfair debt to be placed on the states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. But that's what happened.


After nearly four months of running this programme, all of the State's Leaders pressured the Federal Government to demand that the cost of the quarantine now be charged to the actual individual, not the taxpayer.

“Australian residents have been given plenty of time to return home – and we feel it is only fair that they cover some of the costs of their hotel accommodation.”

Since March 25th, Australians have been restricted from leaving for overseas shores. Aussies now need to apply for permission to leave the country, with 75% of requests being denied, right now Aussies who are overseas have their reasons. Some are overseas because they are still employed, some have contractual obligations with companies and can't return just yet. Returning Australian's now should be assessed for their return not lumped in with the backpacker crowd that went "no way am going to end my trip, she'll be right." There was one on my flight home to Australia on March 24th who couldn't help but complain she had to cut her trip short.


Anyway, the Federal Government agreed and now anyone who arrives in Australia and is not on an exemption list must foot the bill for this quarantine programme. Now you'd think, well yeah, alright but when you look at the cost and the fact that it isn't consistent it is simply a price-gouge. The charges are:


New South Wales & South Australia:

  • $3,000 for one adult;

  • Additional adults: $1000 each;

  • Additional children: $500 each

Queensland:

  • $2,800 for one adult;

  • $3,710 for 2 adults;

  • $4,620 for 2 adults and 2 children

Northern Territory:

  • $2500 per person with a maximum charge of $5000 for a family.

Western Australia

  • $2520 per person/room;

  • $3360 for two persons/room;

  • $60 for each additional night/person/day

Victoria:

No longer have a programme as international flights don't arrive in Melbourne anymore. This is due to the virus not being quarantined correctly in the hotels and the virus now being out in the community resulting in a mass lockdown of the state and the capital.


How can this programme be so expensive? Five-Star hotel or not it's a contract to provide a service, it's not for the holidaymaker. When it comes to the price of hotels for a stay of that duration, well, just a brief check for some long term stays in Sydney, you can find a room at a decent place for $1300-1600 for two weeks.

So even with food and transport, you must assume that the quarantine programme at $3000 has five-star limos and french cuisine each night . . . oh, wait . . .

Somethings don't look too bad, others look foul. Regardless I think it's safe to agree that it couldn't cost more than maybe $300 per person for the full two weeks at the above standard.


It was July 13th when it was announced that from July 18th Australians would be required to pay for their quarantine. Also announced was that flights would now be capped at a maximum of 50 people arriving on any ONE flight.


I left Australia on July 6th to wrap up contractual obligations with my US company. Inevitably I had to return for financial reasons and ironically it's a wasted endeavour when I am now faced with this exorbitant price if I ever returned. If I had a choice I would never have left Australian shores. When the announcement was made, I couldn't just drop everything and return immediately to save money. I know that many others are in the same boat around the world who are now required to foot this insane bill, some with families, in order to return to their own country. Does anyone see a problem with this?


It was only in back in February that the Federal Government was facing massive pressure when it announced that those who were on the Wuhan repatriation flights would face a $1,000 charge per person. This cost subsidised the flights and transport including a two-week quarantine on Christmas Island under medical supervision. This created absolute outrage and Aussie families in Wuhan stated they couldn't afford the charge for their family and would stay behind. Because of the outrage, it was overturned and those on the programme were given it for free. I supported the charge because it was such a "low price" in the grand scheme of things but I still thought it was a rough option considering Wuhan had been locked off by now so there were no commercial options for people to take. So a $1,000 per person, including your flight to Australia, transport to Christmas Island, accommodation, meals and medical supervision probably wasn't too bad. Yet now states and territories are charging $2500-3000 per person to stay in a hotel room. No one is questioning this?


Now look I know the naysayers will probably be thinking either, well you had the time to return and didn't. Or put them up on Christmas Island and see how you like it. To simply say the first point avoids the premise of this post. Many Australian's are overseas because it's their employment, its a contractual obligation to a company or other personal reasons. As for Christmas Island, if I was told I had to quarantine on Christmas Island and my transport there and 14 weeks medical supervision was $1,000 well I'd pay that. The other concern is that with Australia restricting arrivals to the country, ex-pats now face a cap on flights of 50 per flight. Considering the distance Australia is from the rest of the world, freight on board or not, this means airlines aren't going to be making a return on any flight to Australia. It makes sense that airlines are going to charge a higher airfare to Australia now when they can only fill a 787 or 777 with 50 people. Add the cost of this airfare, cost of a quarantine bill on arrival that Wuhan $1,000 bill doesn't look too bad does it? For a family, the cost now of returning home could simply result in them going into financial ruin. It is only fair to think that their country has now abandoned them.


Back to the quarantine programme now.


Once an Aussie leaves this quarantine they have 30 days to repay the state's government for the cost of it. Now some exemptions and hardships can be applied for, but it is effectively up to a person to assess that application and could very easily be denied. We have seen how the decision of an employee in the public service can ruin someone's life.


Recently we have seen the sad news that due to the Queensland border closure to New South Wales a family who had their newly born infant airlifted to a hospital in Queensland for urgent medical treatment had been unable to follow their child. The Queensland authorities blocked their permission to travel to be by their child's bedside unless they quarantined on arrival. The charges for Interstate quarantine is the same as an International arrival. That is no common sense whatsoever. Thankfully that family is now reunited, their newborn is doing well and is back in New South Wales.


People who are even applying to leave Australia for a personal reason have had their application rejected, even if they are planning a "one-way" ticket or have agreed to pay for their quarantine on their return.


Returning Aussies should be faced with an assessment as to why your return is occurring only now and the category you fall into. So for example assess the following:

  • When did you leave Australia?

  • Why did you leave?

  • Why was your return delayed?

  • Your Passport History should also be assessed in regards to your travel history in that timeframe you were overseas.

  • Identification Category is ether Returning Traveller or Non-Traveller


If you follow those simple questions you would be able to assess whether a returning citizen or permanent resident is a "Returning Traveller" or had a legitimate reason as to why they delayed the return "Non-Traveller". Example:

  • When did you leave Australia?

  • November 1st 2019

  • Why did you leave?

  • For my gap year to backpack around Europe

  • Why was your return delayed?

  • I felt fairly safe in Europe so I stuck with my return ticket

  • Passport History

  • Has travelled to many different countries during the last four-six months

  • Category:

  • Returning Traveller

  • When did you leave Australia?

  • February 10th 2020

  • Why did you leave?

  • Overseas Employment

  • Why was your return delayed?

  • Contracted to the company, employment of any kind in this time is vital compared to returning immediately to welfare and unknown job prospects

  • Passport History

  • Only shows entry into the country they were working in

  • Category:

  • Non-Traveller

Those who are in the "Non-Traveller" category would then not be required to pay for their quarantine. Unlike a "Returned Traveller", who had the opportunity to follow their government's advice and could've returned to their country of residence in the last four months. Now yes, backpackers do gain employment whilst on their travels and if the decision was made to stay in that country because you were employed well that could be a different story. However, working a "casual" style job to support your travels is different from full-time employment to support your family.


The point here is. That by using the above you could identify the reasons for Aussies still being overseas. You could also assess whether they should pay for the quarantine and the above criteria would be easier to debate or appeal under hardship rules.

For example, if a "Returned Traveller" is returning and has a poor bank balance or is returning to welfare then it's easier to assess whether they should pay the full amount, none or partial. Or if a "Non-Traveller" has shown a history that they had returned to Australia during the quarantine programme, then left again and are returning again. Well, they already had one quarantine paid for by the state, so you now have to pay for your second quarantine. An appeal could be made depending on when that "Non-Traveller" departed the country, was it before or after the quarantine charges were announced? etc.


The biggest thing is that it should not be the state's responsibility to pay for the country's quarantine bill. The announcement made it sounded as if all states would share the financial costs equally, yet this didn't happen. Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria were the major gateways for International arrivals, if a South Australian arrived into New South Wales then New South Wales fronted the cost because that South Australian had to arrive into New South Wales. The costs should've been shared or should be once the programme is finished. I understand why New South Wales, in particular, was the biggest proponent of this because when Victoria's disastrous programme blew up, no more international flights would arrive into Victoria meaning more pressure would be forced on to the NSW and QLD programmes. Instead of this cost being shared equally, the Eastern Seaboard states had the financial burden of covering the quarantine of other states, that's not right. With many states financially also having to balance the books with the COVID crisis, they have decided to penalise returning Australians. In essence, they have become the scapegoats to raise funds and for hotels to price gouge a "market" that has no other choice.


Let me get this straight though. I have nothing against the programme, it must continue until a sustainable treatment is available or even a vaccine. However, to hold Australians to financial ransom when some are overseas for their own reasons that are quite legitimate and to return means a further financial burden for them is wrong. Many of these Australians are probably returning because they were made unemployed from their foreign company and like many businesses around the world, they probably weren't even on their full wages anyway. They may have spent the last months of their employment either struggling to make ends meet or just breaking even. The COVID crisis is something that all Australian's are going to have to pay off over decades and generations. These same Aussies who are returning to Australia and will have to contribute to the COVID repayments either through, debt levies or increased taxes are also getting a double-whammy by paying for their quarantine on return in a "one-size fits all" approach. All in this together? Yeah right. It's become state v state, nation v nation, Aussie v Aussie.


Where are those protesters who were against the $1000 bill that was going to be charged to people on government-ordered rescue flights to Wuhan? Or simply because they were going to be sent to Christmas Island was that the problem, not the financial burden? I tell you what, I'd gladly pay $1,000 for quarantine, even if it was on Christmas Island, but $3000? That's price gouging.

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