Calls for greater federal oversight of quarantine system ahead of national cabinet meeting

The debate around alternatives to hotel quarantine will continue when national cabinet meets via teleconference on Friday.

Security guards are seen at the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Perth, Sunday, 31 January, 2021.

Security guards are seen at the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Perth, Sunday, 31 January, 2021. Source: AAP

Scott Morrison says it's unrealistic to think there could be anything to replace the hotel quarantine system to allow people to safely enter from overseas.

The prime minister will meet with state and territory leaders for national cabinet on Friday, amid calls for more creative ways to quarantine returning Australians and greater federal oversight of quarantine.

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said Mr Morrison can't "sit on his hands" and wait for solutions from the states.

"The Constitution is very clear - national quarantine arrangements for people returning from overseas are the responsibility of the Commonwealth government," Mr Butler said.

Tennis players arriving at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne under quarantine conditions ahead of the 2021 Australian Open.
Source: AAP

Mr Morrison told reporters his government was open to "good proposals" to supplement the hotel system.

"(But) it remains the case that the most effective way to deliver at the scale that Australia needs ... (is) hotel quarantine," he said.

"That remains the advice I have from my experts and the alternative is not that clear to me."

To date, just over 211,000 people have returned from overseas during the pandemic, with most going through the hotel system, but many using the Howard Springs facility near Darwin funded by the federal government to the tune of $243 million.

Mr Morrison said that with the option of a facility in the Queensland regional city of Gladstone off the table, the government was considering a facility at Toowoomba's Wellcamp Airport for "supplementary capacity".

He said he would be writing to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk regarding the proposal, which is understood to offer 1000 rooms for travellers and 300 for staff.

Howard Springs quarantine centre in the Northern Territory is being considered as an option for returned travellers in other states.
Source: AAP

Arrivals at the privately-funded airport in southern Queensland would go straight from the tarmac to the quarantine facility for checks.

Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the government had the results of a quarantine review to work with, outlining a new "risk management approach".

"Scott Morrison's risk management approach is to simply manage his own political risks and to put that risk onto the state premiers," she said.

Solutions included a federally run quarantine facility for surge capacity, more rigorous testing before people get on a plane and when they land and voluntary home quarantine with monitoring devices.

Victoria has reinstated compulsory face masks and gathering limits after a worker from a hotel full of Australian Open players and staff tested positive.

Western Australia is four days into a five-day lockdown after a hotel security guard contracted the highly contagious UK strain of the virus from an infected guest.

A double-deck bus where the returned travellers are being transferred to the state quarantine hotel.
Source: supplied

WA Premier Mark McGowan has called for the Christmas Island detention centre to be used, as it was at the start of the pandemic, but the federal government twice rejected him.

Federal minister Michael Sukkar said it was "attractive" to think there could be national standards for quarantine.

"But we have to understand that states and territories have consistently made the point that they will be the final decision-maker for arrangements within their own state," he told the ABC.

National cabinet will receive an economic briefing from Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy and a medical update, as well as the latest details on the vaccine strategy, international arrivals and seasonal workers.

Published 5 February 2021 at 6:06am, updated 5 February 2021 at 7:03am
Source: AAP - SBS