The federal government has called on Australian travellers who wish to return home to do so now, as it unveils $715 million in assistance for airlines hit by COVID-19 travel bans. The Department of Foreign Affairs upgraded international travel advice, telling Australians to reconsider their need for travel as countries close borders, making it difficult to provide consular assistance. “If you’re already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means,” it said in a statement. The government unveiled new relief measures for Qantas, Virgin and regional airlines, made up of refunds and waivers of fuel excise, Airservices charges, and regional security fares. Qantas has cut its international capacity by 90 per cent and domestic services by 60 per cent, but will honour the bookings with a flight credit voucher.
About 15,000 welfare recipients placed on the controversial cashless debit card will be prevented from withdrawing $750 stimulus payments as cash. Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, told Guardian Australia it was “beyond belief” the restrictions would apply in a time of crisis. The news comes as the federal government prepares to unveil tighter rules on indoor crowds today and plans a second round of stimulus ($) for later this week, including help for the tourism and hospitality sectors. Countries around the world are unveiling huge assistance packages, including the United Kingdom’s £330 billion ($670 billion) in business loans. Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 testing kits are due to arrive in Australia, with the government seeking to ramp up domestic production of alternatives and other depleted stocks of medical equipment.
In other news: Figures from the Australian Dental Association show people on public dental waiting lists generally have worse outcomes than those who can afford private care, with some waiting more than two years for treatment. The ABC reports that roughly 33 per cent of Australians eligible for public dentistry avoid food because of problems with their teeth, compared to about 20 per cent of other Australians. A quarter of people with access to public dental care do not have the minimum amount of teeth needed for their mouths to function efficiently.
The Law Council of Australia president, Pauline Wright, has called for a federal parliamentary inquiry into the family law system to be abandoned, claiming the hearings are “being used for political purposes” to undermine domestic violence claims. She has written to Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, the chair of the inquiry, to complain about the live broadcast of hearings by One Nation last week, with comments posted describing witnesses and MPs as “bitch”, “man-hater” and “dirty snake”.