More Australians stranded overseas are set to return after states and territories agreed to gradually increase their hotel quarantine caps. But it will happen slower than the prime minister ‘would have liked’.
Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales have agreed to raise caps on quarantine numbers as part of a national cabinet push to bring more stranded Australians home.
Up to 1,500 more people could soon be returning to Australia each week after premiers and chief ministers signed off on the federal government’s demand to increase their quarantine arrangements.
NSW will accept an additional 500 returning Australians each week by 28 September, while Queensland and Western Australia will accept an additional 200 travellers each week.
Queensland will lift its intake by a further 300 from 4 October, with Western Australia moving to the same position on 11 October.
« We want to see Australians get home, » Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday following the national cabinet meeting.
More than 24,000 Australians currently overseas are waiting to return, with many facing delays because of the strict cap on incoming arrivals and hikes in international flight costs.
The Department of Home Affairs and Trade considers around 4,000 of these people are in a vulnerable position.
Premiers and chief ministers have not yet confirmed how they will boost their hotel quarantine capacity.
But Mr Morrison said other states and territories had also agreed to work with the Commonwealth to assist in the process of bringing in commercial flights.
Victoria is still not taking incoming arrivals after their quarantine arrangements ceased following concerns over the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
There are also currently no commercial international services into the ACT, the Northern Territory or Tasmania.
Mr Morrison also explained discussions were ongoing over an easing of quarantine requirements on Australians or New Zealanders entering the country from across the Tasman.
He said getting to a situation where people returning from New Zealand are able to enter Australia without going into a 14-days of hotel quarantine would « free up » places in the system.
It’s understood former senior public servant Jane Halton’s report examining hotel quarantine systems across the country formed a key part of Friday’s national cabinet discussions.
Mr Morrison said the report’s outcomes were « very positive » and would be used to provide feedback to states and territories on their quarantine procedures.
The prime minister was also questioned on whether there would be further federal government support to back the push to increase quarantine numbers.
“They weren’t asking for money. They were asking for ADF support and the answer is yes because I want to enable as many Australians to get home as soon as possible, and I want to do that safely … and in as constructive a way as we can,” Mr Morrison said.
WA Premier Mark McGowan has defended his state’s gradual ramping up of quarantine places after rejecting the federal government’s request to double its capacity by the end of the month.
« Recklessly doubling the number of arrivals into Western Australia overnight is not the way we should be approaching this issue, » he said.
« We are dealing with a deadly virus and we do not have hotel quarantine capability to deal with it. »
Mr Morrison said disagreements between some leaders had delayed expectations around when the cap would be fully lifted.
« We’ll get there. We will get there a couple of weeks after I would have liked to have got there, but we’ll still get there, » he said.
« Let’s get to this next level, and then ultimately we’d like to see those caps lifted. »
Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong criticised the « staged increase » of the international arrivals cap warning the approach risks leaving too many Australians stranded overseas « for too long ». »Instead of showing leadership on what is a Federal responsibility, he has fobbed off these Australians in need to the Premiers,” Senator Wong said.Mr Morrison has rejected calls from Labor to use government aircraft to get some Australians home, saying there are plenty of commercial aircraft available.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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