Flights back, trains gone as NSW reopens

Jack Gramenz |

International arrivals landing in Sydney Airport for the first time in almost two years have been greeted with free flat whites, an entourage of drag queens and surf lifesavers – and a disrupted public transport network.

Arrivals from the US, Japan, Singapore, Canada and the UK were met in Sydney by the welcoming committee, soundtracked by a song the NSW government commissioned for its new tourism campaign.

An elated Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan was also there to greet arrivals holding a stuffed koala, Vegemite and Tim Tams.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the return of international travel is a “phenomenal” day and his government had led the way in reopening the state’s $38 billion tourism industry.

Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said: “There is probably no industry that has done it tougher over the last two years than the tourism sector.” 

He encouraged people wanting to travel to book through a travel agent to support local businesses, and if travelling domestically, to book accommodation directly through providers.

NSW is also rolling out $50 vouchers that can be spent on accommodation as part of the government’s $250 million Stay NSW program to bolster the industry.

The premier says the thousands of people arriving on Monday are just the start and “many, many more” will follow.

It comes as NSW records its fifth consecutive day of new cases under 10,000.

The state recorded 4916 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths on Monday.

New cases dropped by 666 from Sunday and deaths were down by two thirds.

The seven latest people to die with the virus were all men, aged between their 60s and 90s.

There are 1288 patients in hospital, 74 of them in intensive care and 33 are on ventilators.

Some 55.6 per cent of people eligible for a third vaccine dose have received one.

In addition to drag queens and surf lifesavers, Monday’s arrivals were greeted by a Sydney public transport network with no trains operating.

Mr Perrottet said services were suspended after Sydney Trains decided they could not operate safely because of industrial action.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has imposed a ban on “altered working”, meaning they don’t allow changes to set rosters.

It’s part of long-running industrial action stemming from stalled negotiations on an enterprise bargaining agreement that expired in May, where safety is one of their three main demands.

Mr Perrottet accused unions and the opposition Labor Party of engaging in a “coordinated attack”.

The union denies that workers went on strike, saying the government chose to cancel trains and that workers are at rail depots and ready to begin work.

Business Sydney executive director Paul Nicolaou says the suspension of trains stemming from the dispute between the government and the union “could not have come on a worse day” and needs to be solved immediately.

He says the “transport train wreck” will “cost business severely and damage our international reputation as a tourist destination”.

Struggling CBD businesses were also “dealt another blow as many workers who were expected to return to their workplaces (were) today instead told to avoid the commute”, Mr Nicolaou said.