Hotel quarantine will again be at the forefront of the national cabinet meeting on Friday as the states battle it out over who will pick up the massive bill.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to discuss the contentious issue with state and territory leaders amid simmering political tensions after New South Wales billed Queensland and Western Australia for processing their international arrivals.
It comes as some Australians stuck overseas say they are facing homelessness, and potentially jail time, for overstaying their visas as Victoria quietly bows out of the hotel quarantine program.
NSW is processing about 3000 returned travellers each week, while other states, excluding Victoria, process between 500 and 1000.
The NSW government this week sent an invoice for $7 million to WA and a $30 million bill to Qld for processing its returning residents between March 29 and September 30.
WA Premier Mark McGowan “officially responded” to the bill on Wednesday, by posting a photo on Facebook of it being shredded.
“WA will not be paying,” he said.
“The New South Wales government thinks they can be above everyone else.
“But we are all Australians, and we all have a duty to help safely process returning Australians.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it is “absolutely ridiculous” that NSW sent the bill.
“We are obviously doing hotel quarantine for their residents. We are not charging them [the state]. This is normal work that we have been doing,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
Queensland has called on the federal government to endorse the state’s plan for a national quarantine centre. But NSW is not backing down.
The state and territory governments had previously agreed to cover hotel quarantine bills racked up by their citizens. But it was later decided that travellers would pay for themselves.
While the three states duke it out, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is staying silent about when his state will resume accepting international arrivals after he “paused” them during the five-day lockdown.
Dire straits overseas
Phillip Burchett, 57, is one of more than 40,000 Australians still stranded overseas.
Mr Burchett lost his job working as an executive chef in Bali when COVID hit.
The father of two has been trying to get back to Australia since then, but says he has not been able to get a flight.
He has run out of money, is living off food donations, and is arguing with the Australian Taxation Office to withdraw his superannuation.
“I am no longer able to pay my visa. We have been living off food donations,” he told The New Daily.
“We have no money whatsoever. I have been fighting for months to get my super released on compassionate grounds.”
Mr Burchett needs to access his super to buy flights home to Victoria so he can find work and help support his family in Bali.
The ATO has rejected his claim for early release as he cannot prove he is under financial hardship, as he is not on JobSeeker.
He says he now has to wait until April 11 when he turns 58 to access his super and is worried about how he will feed or house his young family until then.
His landlord has given him five days to find the money for rent and his visa runs out in 10 days.
“We can’t survive until (April 11),” he said.
“I need to get my superannuation to buy a ticket to get back. I am facing jail time now or deportation, as I can no longer afford visa costs.”
Even if he does get his super, getting home proves another challenge as the flights are expensive and the wait times are stretching out.
“I need to get work and send money to my kids to survive here,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Wednesday that the international border would remain closed for another three months, until June 17.