Australia international travel ban: Why aren't we angrier about not being allowed to go overseas?

Want to leave Australia? You better have a good reason.

A son or daughter getting married overseas won't do the trick. A funeral in another country probably won't be justification. Since the Australian government's international travel ban came into effect in March, more than 90,000 applications to leave Australia have been lodged, and only 22,640 of those have been approved.

That's almost 70,000 people who have asked to travel from Australia to another country and been denied. That's 75 per cent of applications turned down. And those people, you would expect, had at least some sort of reason to depart the country other than pure pleasure.

Contrast that with Europe right now, where citizens of most countries are permitted to come and go as they please, for whatever reason. You've probably seen photos of your Europe-based friends having their summer holidays as they usually would, in Greece or Italy or Croatia.

The pandemic doesn't seem to matter too much over there: even those from Britain, where there are 1000 new cases of coronavirus a day, are allowed to travel, with quarantine-free re-entry from 68 countries and territories worldwide. Brits can even holiday in designated COVID-19 "hotspots" such as Spain and France if they really want to, though two weeks of self-quarantine is required upon their return.

You would think such freedom would be welcomed in the UK, even gloated over. Sixty-eight countries and territories you can head out to on holiday tomorrow, and return as you please? And even from the danger zones, there's no enforced hotel quarantine – just the requirement to stay home for a fortnight.

Sounds pretty good right now, particularly to Australians who are being kept under lock and key, with almost no chance to exercise what many of us thought was an inalienable right to leave the country whenever we please. Brits, meanwhile, can just keep calm and carry on.

And yet, those complaining loudest seem to be from the United Kingdom. British citizens are moaning about having holiday plans disrupted by recently introduced self-isolation requirements. There's been a political tussle and plenty of opposition to plans to impose more "handbrake restrictions" – self-isolation requirements – on visits to other countries.

In Australia, meanwhile? Barely a word of complaint about the strongest travel restrictions any of us have ever faced. Not only can we not even leave our own country right now, most of us can't even leave our own state. And rather than stage a mass protest, for the most part people are just soldiering on.


For the record, I'm not advocating an opening of borders in Australia. My livelihood depends on the health of the travel industry but I can still understand the need to curb it right now, both in terms of travel out of Australia and travel into it as well. I don't want to live in another USA.

But it bears considering the fact that Australians, with a few exceptions, are accepting of these strict measures when so many other nationalities are not.

In part, I think that's because Australians are used to being told what to do, and we're used to doing it. This is a nation of laws, rules and guidelines, and we are a nation – despite the larrakin cliché – of followers of those restrictions. We see a greater good, I suppose, in doing what we're supposed to.

I don't always love that trait, but in this case it seems to be serving us well. We're a nation that loves to travel, and one that is very much used to travel being a constant and important part of our lives. And yet right now we're largely happy to forgo it, happy to explore our own land or even literally our own backyards – if you're in Victoria – until such time as it's safe and wise to get back out there.

Our situation is also different to Great Britain's. That country has been hit hard with COVID-19, and it isn't getting rid of it. There have been more than 320,000 cases in the UK, and almost 50,000 deaths. Plenty of the country's citizens probably don't see the problem getting much worse, regardless of its citizens' travel habits. Few countries have higher rates of infection.

Australians have a different frame of reference. For a while there, our daily infection tally was zero. When you see that as an achievable possibility, anything higher looks frightening. So we work together to keep it low.

Why aren't we angrier about our total international travel ban? Because we see the reasons for it. And because most of us are actually pretty excited to have an excuse to see more of Australia for a while, to see what it's like a few hours down the coast instead of 24 hours away on a plane.

International travel will return, eventually. For now though, it's time for a stiff upper lip.

Do you agree with Australia's international travel ban? Do you think Brits are right to complain about self-quarantine rules? Would you rather be in Europe now, or Australia? Post a comment below.



See also: Others can, so why can't Australians travel overseas?

See also: The one big issue that will stop Australians travelling overseas

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