Anthony Albanese laid blame for Sydney’s latest COVID outbreak at the feet of the federal government, claiming Scott Morrison’s action on vaccination and quarantine has “made worse” the escalating virus situation.
But the Coalition government has finally taken the next step towards setting up another national quarantine facility, giving a long-awaited tick of approval to Victoria’s proposal for a dedicated hub on the outskirts of Melbourne.
The NSW outbreak grew by another 16 cases on Wednesday, as Liberal premier Gladys Berejiklian imposed tough rules on the Sydney area. They come into effect at 4pm Wednesday (AEST).
There are questions about NSW’s handling of the outbreak, including why stricter public health measures weren’t enacted sooner and whether protocols for airport arrivals were too lax. But the Labor leader drew a line between the growing Sydney cluster and federal responsibilities for quarantine and vaccination on Wednesday.
He tweeted that the situation was “made worse because the [vaccine] rollout has been so slow”, and accused the Prime Minister of “blame-shifting”. In question time, Mr Albanese went further, with the two party leaders – who are both from Sydney – squaring off over who was at fault.
“The Prime Minister says it is not a race but the NSW Premier said today there is a real sense of urgency, and until the vast majority of our population is vaccinated, these threats will be real,” Mr Albanese said.
“How many outbreaks will it take before the government fixes the bungled vaccine rollout and creates a safe, national quarantine system?”
You all deserve better than this. We need a real plan to beat COVID-19, not more excuses and blame shifting from the Morrison Government.
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) June 23, 2021
Labor noted there had been 25 virus outbreaks in Australia linked to hotel quarantine, including four in the past three weeks.
Mr Morrison responded that he would “commend” Ms Berejiklian for her handling of the current outbreak, and said the federal government was prepared to send more vaccine doses to NSW if requested.
He also praised “the fact she hasn’t gone to lock down Australia’s biggest city”, calling that a “positive decision”. Mr Morrison also singled out NSW as “Australia’s best contact-tracing system”, and blasted Labor for politicising the situation.
“The opposition has been invited for more than a year to join the government in our efforts to combat the virus. But throughout the pandemic they have chosen time and again, to just pursue political point scoring rather than joining and supporting the national effort,” he said.
“The opposition seems to believe that when there is a global pandemic there can’t be transmission of a virus. That is a foolish position and a misleading position.”
But Mr Albanese claimed the Sydney outbreak was “worsening by the hour”, and linked the spiralling emergency to the troubled vaccine rollout.
As of Wednesday, 6.8 million doses of vaccine had been distributed in Australia. On Monday, federal health officials admitted they remained concerned about supply and demand issues.
Mr Albanese demanded Mr Morrison “urgently fix his bungled vaccine rollout and establish a safe national system of quarantine”.
This daily infographic provides the total number of vaccine doses administered in Australia as of 22 June 2021. Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccine information here: https://t.co/TUKfzVuGVm #COVID19vaccines #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/dco9mPqLiN
— Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) June 23, 2021
Mr Morrison said breaches from hotel quarantine were inevitable. Just hours earlier, his government had finally given the approval for the next stage of preparing for a Victorian government proposal to build a federally-funded quarantine facility in Melbourne.
The state government wants to use a site at Mickleham, north of the city, but the federal government had favoured land at Avalon, near Geelong. No official decision has been made, a senior government source told The New Daily, but the Herald Sun newspaper reported on Wednesday that Mr Morrison was now leaning toward the Mickleham site.
On Wednesday morning, assistant minister for regional development Nola Marino told the House of Representatives that the federal government had approved the next step in building the facility. She said the work was “urgent” and should go ahead without being referred to a parliamentary committee on public works, as would otherwise be required.
But with the site not yet chosen, TND understands the update refers to expediting logistics and planning work, not actually beginning construction.
Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler, said it was “better late than never”.
“We’ve been calling for this for months,” he said.
“Welcome some progress in relation to a quarantine facility being built in Victoria. But as we understand it, it still won’t be open until next year.”
Mr Butler called on the government to start “proactively identifying other sites around the country” for similar dedicated quarantine facilities.