Tag: Australias

Complaints about travel to Australia’s consumer watchdog rose 500% during Covid

Australia’s consumer watchdog has received more than 24,000 complaints about travel this year – an increase of 497%, according to a report about the impacts of Covid-19 on fair trading.



a close up of a fence: Photograph: Patrick Foto/Getty Images


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Photograph: Patrick Foto/Getty Images

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which previously confirmed that Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad had been subject to complaints, said it was clear customers had found it difficult in some cases to receive refunds after travel was cancelled because of the pandemic.

“The economic disruption from Covid-19 has led to a huge volume of varied and complex consumer law issues,” the ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.

“Common misconduct we’ve received complaints about during the pandemic includes businesses misleading consumers about their right to a refund, or deducting cancellation fees from refunds when there is no contractual basis to do so.”

According to the report, customers of Virgin Australia and STA travel also contacted the commission after the companies went into administration.

Related: Trivago loses appeal after misleading Australian consumers over cheap hotel deals

Among the complaints received by the commission were airlines not refunding flights or only providing credits, a cruise operator only providing credits (or a refund if the credit had not been used within two years), and accommodation providers not refunding or crediting bookings that had to be cancelled because of domestic travel restrictions (or charging a fee to receive credit).

Australians are not automatically entitled to refunds if cancellations occur because of government restrictions, the commission said. It depended on the terms and conditions of the booking.

“We decided early on that the best way we could help consumers was to educate businesses about their legal obligations and resolve issues quickly and efficiently, rather than taking court action,” Court said.

“We announced some cases such as Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad, where we worked with those businesses to improve their treatment of customers, but we’ve been doing a lot of other work behind the scenes with dozens of travel businesses to get refunds and other remedies for customers who had their holiday plans dashed.

“The ACCC is very conscious of the fact that many businesses have struggled to process cancellations and respond to consumer queries as they have reduced staff capacity and are struggling to stay afloat.”

The commission said it had also performed engagement, compliance and education initiatives with more than 60 businesses from industries including live performance and ticketing, fitness and gymnasiums, online selling platforms, professional sports and food suppliers to resolve consumer issues.



a building with a metal fence: Travel disruption due to Covid led to more than 24,000 complaints to Australia’s consumer watchdog in 2020.


© Photograph: Patrick Foto/Getty Images
Travel disruption due to Covid led to more than 24,000 complaints to Australia’s consumer watchdog in 2020.

Other large increases in complaints related to sport and recreation (up 134%), fuel retailing (121%) and insurance (104%).

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Complaints about travel to Australia’s consumer watchdog rose 500% during Covid | Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

Australia’s consumer watchdog has received more than 24,000 complaints about travel this year – an increase of 497%, according to a report about the impacts of Covid-19 on fair trading.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which previously confirmed that Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad had been subject to complaints, said it was clear customers had found it difficult in some cases to receive refunds after travel was cancelled because of the pandemic.

“The economic disruption from Covid-19 has led to a huge volume of varied and complex consumer law issues,” the ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.

“Common misconduct we’ve received complaints about during the pandemic includes businesses misleading consumers about their right to a refund, or deducting cancellation fees from refunds when there is no contractual basis to do so.”

According to the report, customers of Virgin Australia and STA travel also contacted the commission after the companies went into administration.

Among the complaints received by the commission were airlines not refunding flights or only providing credits, a cruise operator only providing credits (or a refund if the credit had not been used within two years), and accommodation providers not refunding or crediting bookings that had to be cancelled because of domestic travel restrictions (or charging a fee to receive credit).

Australians are not automatically entitled to refunds if cancellations occur because of government restrictions, the commission said. It depended on the terms and conditions of the booking.

“We decided early on that the best way we could help consumers was to educate businesses about their legal obligations and resolve issues quickly and efficiently, rather than taking court action,” Court said.

“We announced some cases such as Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad, where we worked with those businesses to improve their treatment of customers, but we’ve been doing a lot of other work behind the scenes with dozens of travel businesses to get refunds and other remedies for customers who had their holiday plans dashed.

“The ACCC is very conscious of the fact that many businesses have struggled to process cancellations and respond to consumer queries as they have reduced staff capacity and are struggling to stay afloat.”

The commission said it had also performed engagement, compliance and education initiatives with more than 60 businesses from industries including live performance and ticketing, fitness and gymnasiums, online selling platforms, professional sports and food suppliers to resolve consumer issues.

Other large increases in complaints related to sport and recreation (up 134%), fuel retailing (121%) and insurance (104%).

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South Australia’s opposition calls for end to hotel quarantine as state exits lockdown

South Australia’s opposition leader has called for a halt on putting returned travellers in hotel quarantine until a safer system can be put in place, as the state emerged from its temporary lockdown on Sunday.



a car parked on a city street: Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock


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Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Labor opposition leader Peter Malinauskas wrote to premier Steven Marshall on Sunday and said the outbreak from hotel quarantine in Adelaide and the second wave experienced in Victoria as a result of its hotel quarantine issues showed that putting returned travellers in CBD hotels “with subcontracted private security simply does not work”.



a car parked on a city street: One of the quarantine hotels in Adelaide. The state’s Labor opposition wants hotel quarantine for returned travellers stopped until there’s a safer system in place.


© Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock
One of the quarantine hotels in Adelaide. The state’s Labor opposition wants hotel quarantine for returned travellers stopped until there’s a safer system in place.

“The only way to alleviate this risk is to immediately end the international arrival and medi-hotel system in its current format, until a safer solution is found,” he said.

Malinauskas suggested in a Facebook post that there could be purpose-built facilities outside the CBD staffed by a non-casual workforce.

Related: South Australia to end Covid lockdown early as premier ‘fuming’ over pizza lie

Marshall said on Sunday the suggestion would not work, and was a break in bipartisanship.

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “We don’t have 1,200 rooms in Woomera or Christmas Island to pop up with a quarantine hotel let alone the staff, let alone building the hospital alongside it.”

The Parafield outbreak from the Peppers medi-hotel still stands at 26 cases. The state recorded just one new case overnight – a woman in her 20s in a medi-hotel who returned to South Australia from overseas before the state stopped accepting returned travellers.

The lockdown ended in South Australia at midnight on Sunday, three days earlier than planned, after a 36-year-old kitchen worker at the Stamford medi-hotel who initially said he had contracted the virus while picking up a pizza at an Adelaide pizza bar later admitted to working in the kitchen alongside an infected security guard from the Peppers hotel.

The man is on a temporary graduate visa which expires next month. A taskforce of 20 police detectives are investigating the false report.

Federal Labor’s shadow employment minister, Brendan O’Connor, told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday that while people should not lie to contact tracers, the man might have been forced to lie about his work situation because he did not have access to jobseeker or jobkeeper support on a temporary visa.

“We have had hundreds of thousands of temporary visa applicants who don’t have any support in a recession where obviously employers won’t choose to employ them necessarily if they are not going to get the subsidy,” he said.

“I’m just making the point, so you make decisions at the federal level, they can have consequences down the track.

“We did say there should be modest support for people on temporary visas. You can’t give them nothing because they will end up being in a difficult situation as clearly is the case

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Coronavirus explosion overseas will ‘really test’ Australia’s hotel quarantine program, experts warn

The explosion of COVID-19 cases overseas will strain Australia’s hotel quarantine system and increase the chance of “leakage” into the community, leading epidemiologists say.

Victoria isn’t accepting return international travellers, but the number of positive cases in NSW hotel quarantine has doubled in the past two weeks, data has shown.

This follows the Federal Government’s increase of the international arrivals cap from 6,000 to 6,290 people per week.

The rise in COVID-19 cases in quarantine has not been unexpected, with infections surging in the US, Europe as well as Pakistan and India, which are the top two countries of origin for return travellers in Sydney.

NSW has had only one quarantine scare — when two security guards at the Sydney Marriott Hotel tested positive in August.

But epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said the program was about to be “really tested”.

“There will be the occasional incident as hotels are not purpose built for quarantine,” said Professor McLaws, who is an advisor to the World Health Organization.

“This virus doesn’t understand rules and regulations, it just uses any opportunity, like contaminated surfaces or staff letting their guard down.”

Melbourne’s ‘perfect storm’

Melbourne’s second wave of COVID-19 proved just how much rides on quarantine being watertight, with one infected hotel manager causing mass infections and months of lockdowns.

“It was a perfect storm, what happened in Victoria. That would be hard to replicate in any other state but the possibility is always there,” Professor McLaws said.

The differing levels of virus surveillance in some parts of the world were making it very hard to accurately judge risk right now, she said.

“India cannot keep up and not everyone is getting tested and there is severe under-reporting in Bangladesh.”

Epidemiologist Tony Blakely from the University of Melbourne said hotel quarantine seemed to be working well in NSW but there was now increased pressure on the system.

“Doubling the rate of people infected arriving in quarantine [for example] will double this very rare occurrence to something not quite as rare.”

He admitted leakages were unlikely but said they could occur “from time to time” due to inaccuracies or carelessness.

“For example, the one-in-a-thousand (or more) person who is infected beyond 14 days, but not detected by testing, gets out of quarantine and haplessly passes it on to someone,” Professor Blakely said.

“[Or] the staff member at quarantine who picks it up, tests negative — it happens, about 20 per cent of the time — and takes it home.”

But epidemiologist from the University of Sydney, Fiona Stanaway, said the climbing cases in hotel quarantine shouldn’t cause unnecessary alarm.

“The rates are going gangbusters overseas so yes there will be more people positive but I think it is a risk that can be managed,” she said.

“Rates were really high in the US and Europe in March and April and that was managed here. I don’t think there’s necessarily a cause for concern about this third wave here.

Dr Stanaway said people in quarantine were tested

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Australia’s pandemic travel ban brings family heartbreak

“I always wanted to move to Australia because it felt like a free country,” said German-born Magenau, who became an Australian citizen this year. “It makes the whole feeling of living in Australia quite different because, personally, it makes me feel like I’m trapped … because I can’t travel as I want to.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has held up Australia’s travel ban as an example to the world of how to avoid severe coronavirus spikes caused by citizens who are infected while on vacation.

Still, Australia is the only member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development — a group of 37 developed nations — that has banned its citizens from leaving during the pandemic.

Morrison has described the ban as “uncontroversial.” But with Australia becoming one of the most successful countries in containing the spread of the virus, some are questioning how long the ban can be justified.

Australia, with a population of 26 million, had recorded 27,541 virus cases, including 907 deaths, as of Wednesday — with 74% of the cases and 90% of the fatalities coming in the city of Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state. But Melbourne came out of lockdown on Wednesday, with authorities confident they have contained community transmission.

Government lawmaker Dave Sharma, who has represented constituents seeking his help to be allowed to travel, describes the ban as a “pretty extraordinary restriction on people’s liberty” that cannot continue “for the long term.”

While some exemptions are allowed under strict criteria, critics argue that the process lacks transparency and consistency, and that the process can be too slow.

Magenau, a 42-year-old cancer research scientist, was given an exemption to travel with her 5-year-old son, Hendrix, from their home in Sydney to Stuttgart, Germany. But the weeklong process to get the exemption was too slow for a medical emergency. She didn’t reach Germany until after her 76-year-old father, Horst Magenau, had already been cremated after dying from metastatic melanoma.

“He became worse. We thought he was stable,” she said. “He lived for about five or six days and I thought I could make it out (of Australia), but that didn’t work,” Magenau said.

The funeral could not be delayed until she arrived.

“I wasn’t actually able to say goodbye to his body,” Magenau said. “It sounds silly, but that’s what I had wanted.”

She described the ordeal as “traumatic as it was unnecessary.”

Sydney lawyer Adam Byrnes said by far the majority

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