The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has condemned failures that allowed a mystery group of 17 New Zealanders to fly into the state on Friday, criticising the Australian Border Force for delays in providing vital passenger information and writing to Scott Morrison to express his disappointment.
Seventeen New Zealanders who travelled to Sydney through the newly formed international travel bubble were allowed to fly to Melbourne airport late Friday afternoon, despite the state expressly excluding itself from the bubble arrangement.
The group left the airport quickly after arriving and state authorities had no power to stop them. The location of the group is still unknown, though they are believed to be in metropolitan Melbourne.
Andrews said something “has gone wrong in this system, in that we are not supposed to be part of this arrangement”.
“There are many things the Victorian government can do and there are many things we’re ultimately accountable for but who gets to board domestic flights at Kingsford Smith airport in Sydney is not one of the things I am accountable for, responsible for or can have any impact on, only others can do that,” he said.
The premier had written to the prime minister expressing the state’s disappointment and publicly criticised the Australian Border Force for delays in providing the passenger cards for the New Zealanders.
Without those cards, Victoria had little information about their identity and status.
Alan Tudge, the acting federal immigration minister, labelled Andrews’s comments a “distraction”. He said the possibility of New Zealanders flying into Sydney and going elsewhere was raised in the Australian health protection principal committee, and Victoria raised no concern.
“The concept that people may be arriving into NSW and then potentially going on to other destinations was explicitly raised in the meeting,” Tudge said. “And no official from any jurisdiction raised any concerns.”
Andrews said the arrival posed little health risk, given New Zealand was Covid-free, and said there was no criticism of the New Zealanders’ actions.
But he criticised the absence of any warning, the decision to allow them to travel from Sydney, and the delay in obtaining their passenger records, saying “surely our systems are better than this”.
“No warning – in fact it is exactly the opposite of what we signed up for,” Andrews said. “It has happened now, it can’t be undone.”
Andrews said there should have been a process when they arrived in Sydney to tell the New Zealanders that Victoria and Melbourne was not part of the travel bubble.
“I want to be clear on this – I have written to the prime minister this morning and we’re disappointed this has happened given that I had written to the prime minister on this very issue the previous day, saying at some point we will join that New Zealand/Australia travel bubble but it is not appropriate now,” he said.
Andrews said the travel was possible because Victoria did not close the border, something the federal government had insisted upon.
“That is what the prime minister wants,” he said. “We have done that and now we see 17 people turning up on our doorstep without any notice, without any structure and we still can’t get the cards from Australian Border Force as to who these people are and where they have gone.
“Hopefully we will get that very soon. I have written this morning to make it plain, there is more flights coming on Sunday from New Zealand and we don’t want a repeat of this.”
Andrews said he hoped to have the passenger cards from the ABF by the time he ended his press conference on Saturday morning.
“Some things have gone wrong here… we made it clear that we didn’t want to be part – could not be part of the bubble arrangements at this point,” he said.
The stoush between the federal government and Victoria comes as the state recorded only one new Covid-19 case in the past 24 hours.
Andrews said he did not want to close the border.
“It has remained open,” he said. “I want us to play our part and one case today and now active cases down under 150. We are playing our part in getting the borders across the country open. We don’t want anything to jeopardise that.”