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The federal government is broadly supportive of a Victorian proposal to build an alternative quarantine facility in Melbourne’s north but has warned that the state government’s desired construction deadline of the end of this year is overly ambitious.
Acting Premier James Merlino said on Wednesday that he was expecting a response from the federal government on an alternative quarantine facility “very shortly” as he and senior Labor MPs in Canberra demanded more urgency from the Morrison government on the country’s quarantine system.
The quarantine facility in Mickleham would be based on the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory.
The calls came as the South Australian government finalised its inquiry into how a Melbourne man was infected with COVID-19 in an Adelaide hotel – the case that has been genomically linked to Victoria’s developing outbreak.
South Australian Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the review found that the man probably caught COVID-19 in the Playford Hotel through aerosol transmission likely to have occured on two occasions when food was delivered to residents in the hotel.
The Melbourne man opened his door to collect food within 30 minutes then 12 minutes of a nearby positive case opening their door.
Acting Premier James Merlino said vaccines and alternative quarantine were Australia’s route out of the pandemic.Credit:Justin McManus
Mr Merlino said there had been “very co-operative engagement” between Victoria and Canberra, and alternative quarantine together with widespread vaccination were 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 currently 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 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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