Scott Morrison – Merlino demands urgency on alternative quarantine, Canberra warns completion this year unlikely
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken positively about the “detailed and comprehensive” plan, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas revealed on Friday that the Commonwealth preferred Avalon Airport over Mickleham.
Speaking as Victoria recorded six new COVID-19 cases, Mr Merlino pointed out the “genesis” of Melbourne’s renewed restrictions, with home and public gatherings limited to five and 30 people respectively, was the insufficiency of hotel quarantine to host returned travellers, on this occasion in Adelaide.
Mr Merlino said there had been “very co-operative engagement” between Victoria and Canberra, and alternative quarantine together with widespread vaccination was Australia’s path out of the pandemic.
“We are very, very keen to finalise those discussions with the Commonwealth and have the Commonwealth provide a green light. One, in terms of access to the site so we can crack on and do the planning and the design work. And secondly, for the funding and the construction.”
A senior federal government source confirmed the Andrews government proposal was being assessed by senior bureaucrats including at the Department of Home Affairs, Health Department and the Finance Department, which owns the land proposed by the Victorian government.
Any proposal would have to be approved by federal cabinet. The federal government estimates the facility could take between nine and 12 months to build.
State and federal government sources also confirmed that Victoria and the Commonwealth remained at loggerheads about how to fund the facility, with one Canberra source who spoke on condition of anonymity confirming the Commonwealth would be unlikely to fully fund the capital works for a purpose-built facility without a significant financial commitment from Victoria.
Federal Labor took aim at the government on quarantine and the vaccine rollout on Wednesday, with deputy leader Richard Marles accusing the Coalition of not taking responsibility for either.
“Let’s be clear: what has played out in Victoria now is a result of the failure of hotel quarantine. This is because someone returning to this country actually contracted the virus in a hotel,” Mr Marles said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese used question time on Wednesday to attack Mr Morrison on the Victorian outbreak, asking: “How many more outbreaks do there have to be until the Prime Minister understands that he needs to do his job and deliver a safe, national, purpose-built quarantine system and fix his bungled vaccine rollout?”
The Prime Minister responded that Mr Albanese “didn’t come in and work together to get solutions, he just came here to fight the Tories”, before pointing to his government’s $500 million investment in upgrading the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin.
Work on its expansion was expected to be completed by mid-May and arrivals are scheduled to reach 2000 a fortnight by next month.
Mr Morrison later criticised Labor for “whinging and complaining”.
“This country has enjoyed safety from this pandemic and an economic recovery like few, if any, other countries in the world,” the Prime Minister said.
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