Scott Morrison – Canberra must take the initiative in quarantine system
This did trigger the federal government to instigate a national audit of the hotel quarantine programs in all other states and territories. The inquiry, published in late October and headed by former secretary of the federal Department of Health Jane Halton, found the system had proven “largely effective”. But of its six broad recommendations only one, calling on the Australian government to consider a national facility for quarantine, had the federal government taking a more hands-on role.
But with continuing outbreaks in most states, there are increasing calls for the federal government to take a more active role. Professor Lidia Morawska, director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at the Queensland University of Technology, has called on quarantine to be led from Canberra after sharing concerns about the lack of focus by the states and territories on the ability of airborne transmission to spread the disease.
Adrian Esterman, a biostatistics and epidemiology professor at the University of South Australia, said he had been calling for a nationally driven quarantine response for months. He says the idea that vaccination will be a “silver bullet” against further outbreaks, even if every high-risk hotel quarantine staffer in Australia is immunised, is just wrong.
While the federal government has committed to expanding the capacity at the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory, and is considering a proposal for a 1000-bed purpose-built quarantine site in Toowoomba, 130 kilometres west of Brisbane, Mr Morrison is still very reluctant to take a more active role beyond offering further logistical support when requested.
With the global containment of COVID-19 still a long way off, Australia’s hotel quarantine system is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. Section 51 of the Australian constitution does give the Commonwealth, not the states, the powers to quarantine. While avoiding responsibility for the troublesome program may be politically savvy, the question has to be asked whether it is the best outcome.
If the quarantine programs are to be as effective as possible across Australia, surely it is time the federal government played a more active role in this crucial system that has been the bulwark in protecting Australia from the worst of the pandemic.
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