Discussions between premiers and the Prime Minister about bringing thousands of stranded Australians home will have to wait, after Friday’s National Cabinet meeting was postponed on Thursday night.
A one-line statement from the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the postponement and revealed it was “due to some technical problems that have prevented the Prime Minister’s return to Sydney”.
The meeting has been rescheduled for next week on a date still to be determined.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner was already flying to Sydney to announce a plan to assist Australians stranded overseas who want to return home, alongside Mr Morrison, on Friday.
The ABC has been told the technical problems that have marooned the Prime Minister in Queensland relate to the operation of an RAAF plane.
The National Cabinet meetings are conducted via video conferencing, but the ABC was told no secure facility was available for a remote hook-up.
According to publicly available flight-tracking information, an RAAF BBJ jet that was due to take off from Cairns at 4pm never departed.
Friday’s meeting was to be the first time in a month the nation’s leaders have met, due to last week’s Federal Budget.
Last month’s National Cabinet meeting saw the states and territories agree to allow 6000 people into Australia each week, up from 4000, and another increase was mooted.
The number of Australians returning each week had been capped to ease pressure on state and territory coronavirus quarantine systems and free up resources to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.
Of the 38,200 Australians who have registered their presence overseas, 29,100 have told the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) they want to come home.
The ABC understands people who are classified as the most vulnerable will be given priority for the Howard Springs plan, and their financial situation, family circumstances and health will be taken into consideration.
Stranded on their own
It is understood there will be eight flights, run by Qantas, starting next week — four from London and four from India.
Flights from London will cost $2000 per person while flights from India are expected to cost about $1000.
The flights will be underwritten by the Federal Government.
People will be flown back on Qantas Dreamliners, which will carry 200 passengers per trip.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison had indicated he expected more Australians to be brought home within weeks.
“There have been extensive preparations undertaken on that matter and we’re in the final stages of concluding those arrangements,” he said.
We’ve been working now for some months as we’ve been getting more and more Australians home.”
More than 398,000 Australians have returned home since March 13, when DFAT upgraded its travel advice for all Australians to “‘reconsider your need for overseas travel at this time”.
The trans-Tasman travel bubble formally opens on Friday with the first flight from New Zealand due to arrive in Australia.
Under the deal, New Zealanders can come to Australia to visit New South Wales or the Northern Territory, but Australians won’t be able to travel to New Zealand.