COVID-19 hotel quarantine bill still misses $58.6 million as travelers refuse to pay

Over the two years, the NSW government issued hotel quarantine bills totaling $322.5 million. Of that amount, $263.9 million has been resolved and $700,000 has been refunded in the last two and a half weeks alone.

Revenue NSW has issued debt collection orders – which impose additional costs and are the step before enforcement action – for 63,354 overdue invoices, with a total outstanding balance of $52.6million. Meanwhile, $7.4 million is being paid through active payment plans, which may begin before or after a debt collection order is issued.

Many Australians and returning travelers believe they should not have to pay as the quarantine was in the public interest and some legal scholars support this view.

Professor Kim Rubenstein of the University of Canberra said there was a legal basis for the Australian government to require people entering the country to enter quarantine, but it was less certain that they could charge citizens for this privilege.

“There could be a constitutional issue as to whether it is a valid charge for Australians to return to the country, given that they have been forced into self-quarantine,” Rubenstein said.

Rubenstein said the High Court had previously found Australian citizens had a right to return – but that did not necessarily apply to permanent and temporary residents and visitors.

Rubenstein said if citizens fight the charges in court and win, states could be forced to reimburse people who have already paid. Revenue NSW has yet to take legal action over any unpaid quarantine bills.

The Herald of the Sun spoke to several people who are refusing to pay and plan to fight it in court if necessary.

Among them is Doug, who asked that his surname be withheld, an American with an Australian wife and stepchildren. He divides his time between Utah, where he is a doctor, and his family in Queensland.

“I feel like a lot of human rights were violated with the way their policies were draconian and the way they treated us,” Doug said.

“Fourteen days was so excessive. I was tested negative, without symptoms, in quarantine. People in Sydney who were on the streets amongst everyone else, when they tested positive they were able to go home and do a home quarantine. I just don’t understand that.

Travelers were quarantined in hotels for 14 days upon arrival in Australia during the pandemic. Credit:James Brickwood

As the partner of an Australian citizen on a spouse visa, Doug did not have to apply for an exemption to enter the country during the pandemic, but the quarantine requirement meant he saw much less of his family. than usual, the separation taking “a heavy price”.

Doug surrendered four times while the border was closed. The first stint in quarantine was in Brisbane and free, but he repeated the experience in Sydney three more times, racking up $9,000 in debt.

Doug said The Herald of the Sun he only recently received his first bill, and it had a number of late charges, even though he had never received a previous bill.

Kirstin Postlethwaite-Thomas, an Australian citizen who has lived in Britain for 20 years, said she has yet to pay her bill after being quarantined in Sydney in May 2021. She canceled two previous flights before the July 2020 deadline free quarantined and had provided evidence but was still being sought for payment.

As of May 17, Revenue NSW had waived 60,105 invoices worth $363.7million after the customer provided proof they had booked by July 18, 2020.

Rebecca, who requested a pseudonym, was working on a fixed-term contract in the United States when the pandemic began.

She said she would not pay her bill for the hotel quarantine because embassies have told Australians abroad with jobs and accommodation to shelter in place, and she has acted in accordance with those tips.

Sarah, who applied for a pseudonym, said she finished quarantine in Sydney in December 2020, after being stuck in London without work for several months.


She was 25 and returned to Australia with no savings and had to follow Centrelink, but her request for a hardship waiver was rejected. She was offered a payment plan, but was paid in full when she finally found a job.

As of May 17, a total of only 35 debts valued at $118,100 had been revoked due to hardship or other exceptional circumstances.

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