PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - COVID-19: Travel Cancellation
14 June 2021
I rise to second the motion that was originally brought forward by the member for Menzies, who unfortunately has been taken unwell. I do wish him a speedy recovery. I'm sure that he will make a speedy recovery. I have seconded the motion because the motion does highlight some of the hardships faced by both consumers and travel agents during this recent pandemic.
It gives us an opportunity to reset. The COVID-19 pandemic has very negatively affected countless sectors of our economy. Unlike the Prime Minister, I don't believe that everyone is in this together. There are certainly some sectors that have been affected much more severely than others, and the travel industry is one of those. I, like the other members present, have met with the travel agents from my electorate of Macarthur. I do feel for them, and I thank them for the hard work, often not paid work, they have undertaken to try to ensure consumers are treated fairly.
Flights and travel plans have been delayed and cancelled in many instances, and travel agents and consumers have been experiencing financial hardship and significant insecurity about travel during the pandemic.
The pandemic, of course, continues to push back our return to normal travel. It is still very unclear as to when our borders will reopen successfully, because, as we know, this virus is behaving in ways that are still to be determined. The most recent variants appear to be much more infectious and much more transmissible. There is a possibility that the new variants—particularly the double mutation, the B.1.617 mutation—are affecting younger people as well. So it's still very unclear as to when our borders will reopen and still very unclear as to when our travel industry will get back to near normal or pre-COVID normal.
Many thousands of Australian consumers are struggling to retain refunds for holidays they booked through travel agents, despite it being in some of the travel agents' best interests. In my electorate of Macarthur, I must say, every travel agent that I know has behaved in an exemplary manner, but consumers are often struggling to get refunds from foreign agencies and foreign airlines, and many have visited me in my rooms to see what I could do to help them. Two people in particular were two sisters who worked in the education system. They weren't wealthy people. They'd scrimped and saved, had taken their long service leave and had booked an overseas holiday—the holiday of a lifetime—to travel Africa together. They were very much looking forward to it but, for the obvious reasons of the pandemic and our border closures, they were unable to take that holiday.
They tried to get refunds. They'd already taken their long service leave. They were given travel vouchers for foreign airlines and foreign hotels, and these are valid until December this year. Of course, it's extremely unlikely, even if they can get some other leave, that they'll be able to take that holiday. I think it's very unlikely that our borders will be open by then. They've asked for refunds, but have been unable to get those refunds, for tens of thousands of dollars.
I feel deeply for these women, and I think it's time that we looked to reset how travel plans work so consumers can get the refunds they are entitled to. This would bring more certainty to the industry. It would encourage more people to book holidays, both inside and outside Australia, and it would enable our system to be much more consumer friendly.
Exactly how we redefine the system remains to be seen, but I think the minister and this government should look very hard at how we can refine our travel refund system to make sure consumers are protected in all instances. COVID-19 has had a really negative effect on our travel industry. We must get confidence back and we must allow consumers to feel that if, for reasons beyond their control, they need to get refunds they will be able to get them.