Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says the Federal Government is working “constructively” with states and territories to boost hotel quarantine capacity to allow Australians stranded overseas to get home in time for Christmas.
- About 25,000 Australian citizens overseas have registered with the Government their wish to come home
- But there is a 4,000-person cap on arrivals in the country each week
- The Government says the states need to offer more quarantine beds
“If we can lift hotel quarantine numbers, we can increase the number of Australians that can return home,” Mr Hunt said on Sunday.
“We are working constructively with the states to that effect.
“We want to ensure that every Australian that wants to come home is home by Christmas.”
The number of Australians allowed back into the country through international airports has been limited to about 4,000 a week since July.
Travellers who are able to get back must spend 14 days in quarantine in a hotel at their own expense.
National Cabinet agreed to introduce the cap to ease the burden on states’ mandatory hotel quarantine systems after Victoria stopped accepting international flights while it grappled with a second outbreak of COVID-19.
About 25,000 Australian citizens, many of them in financial distress, have registered their desire to come home with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Speaking on Insiders, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he “would be happy to double the number of people tomorrow” provided states increased the number of rooms available to quarantine returned travellers for 14 days.
“It’s a function of the state health directive that people need to go into hotel quarantine for two weeks, but then putting a cap on the number of beds that are available [restricts the number of arrivals],” he said.
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally scoffed at the comments and accused the Federal Government of shirking responsibility.
“I have news for you Minister Dutton, you are in charge of international borders and you are in charge of quarantine arrangements — that’s what the constitution says,” she said.
Senator Keneally argued charter flights should be arranged to help desperate citizens being price gouged by airlines.
“It is within the capacity of the Commonwealth Government, which controls our international borders and quarantine, to figure this out,” she said.
“Send some charted planes out, used federal quarantine facilities that we have in place.”
Senator Keneally also suggested more of the country’s airports, including at Gold Coast, Canberra and Darwin, could be used, with only Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane currently accepting international flights.
Following the last meeting of National Cabinet earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said leaders “agreed to boost the capacity for international arrivals where possible” but did not elaborate on when changes would be made.