Labor leader Anthony Albanese supports commonwealth funded quarantine facilities but says the nation can’t wait for these to be built until after the next federal election.
The Morrison government has agreed to help coronavirus-hit Victoria build a dedicated quarantine facility, and media reports suggest NSW also wants its own, but Queensland’s proposal to do the same is still in limbo.
A spokesperson for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told Nine newspapers on Sunday the state “would welcome a quarantine facility owned and operated by the commonwealth as a way of increasing quarantine capacity”.
“To put things into perspective, at least 10 such facilities as that being built in Melbourne would be required to match what NSW is already doing,” they said.
There are currently around 5,000 people in hotel quarantine in NSW. The state can’t handle a higher number of returning Australians without a dedicated facility, said the spokesperson.
Mr Albanese said the government should have put purpose built quarantine facilities in place and run by the national government last year.
“That was the best time to do this, the best next time is right now,” he told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.
He pointed out that building quarantine facilities is Labor policy, as announced in last month’s budget reply speech.
“This needs to fixed now, not wait until after the next federal election which will occur perhaps as late as May of next year,” he said.
“We can’t afford to keep having these lockdowns.”
Victoria’s 14-day lockdown is due to end on Thursday.
The state reported two new infections on Sunday, along with six cases among overseas travellers currently in hotel quarantine.
An agreement has been reached for the Commonwealth to meet the capital costs for a 500-bed facility in outer Melbourne, while Victoria would cover operational costs.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the proposal is “a very good” one.
The federal government is understood to favour Avalon as the ideal location for the facility because the Victorian government’s preferred Mickleham site already has an animal quarantine facility on it.
However, while Victoria’s proposal formed an 80-page document, Queensland’s proposal is believed to have been scant on detail.
But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told Queensland’s state Labor conference on Saturday the plan to construct a 1,000-bed centre near Toowoomba is not rocket science.
“We are not proposing construction of an international space station,” she said.
“These are reasonably basic structures but they can provide the safety and the certainty our country needs.”
However AAP understands the site near Wellcamp airport doesn’t meet federal expectations because of its lack of proximity to an international airport and existing hotel quarantine venues.
The facility would be about 150km from Brisbane, and Canberra also considers it too far from a tertiary hospital.
Meanwhile, Australians over 40 will have access to coronavirus vaccines from next week as the nation ramps up its behind-schedule rollout.
The federal government has announced the expansion of the immunisation program, bringing it into line with several states including Victoria, which have already widened to over-40s.
Pfizer jabs will be made available to people aged between 40 to 49 from Tuesday.
All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 and above now have access to vaccines, along with National Disability Insurance Scheme recipients and carers.
Victoria will receive an extra 142,000 Pfizer doses over the next week, responding to soaring demand triggered by an ongoing outbreak.