The Victorian government has confirmed it has chosen an existing quarantine site in Melbourne’s north for a 500-bed quarantine hub for returned travellers.
The facility would be built next to an existing pet quarantine site in Mickleham, about 30 kilometres north of Melbourne’s CBD.
But it will not begin construction until after September and is subject to federal government approval.
Acting Premier James Merlino said the proposal had been given to the federal government and “the request to the Commonwealth is they pay for the construction of this facility and ultimately take ownership of this facility”.
The existing quarantine facility and the adjacent land identified for the new site are owned by the federal government.
The proposal is for the state’s COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) body to run the operations at the site.
It is anticipated it would take four months to design and plan the site, and a further four to construct the accommodation, meaning it could be operational by the end of the year.
Mr Merlino said the state would immediately begin design and planning work “to ensure we don’t waste any time”.
The $15 million price tag for the design will be worn by the state.
A final decision on whether to proceed will be made in September, with Mr Merlino saying it would be dependent on “what the world will look like” at that time, including the country’s vaccination progress.
Mr Merlino would not be drawn on whether it would be built if the federal government said no or refused to pay.
The states have primarily handled quarantine since Australia rapidly closed its borders last March to respond to the pandemic, despite quarantine officially being a Commonwealth responsibility.
The majority of infections in the country since then have stemmed from leaks in the system, including Victoria’s deadly second wave and the recent lockdown in Western Australia.
Acting Emergency Services Minister Danny Pearson, who is the minister ultimately responsible for hotel quarantine in Victoria, said the states “took on this burden 12 months ago” as a matter of urgency.
“The Commonwealth needs to step up now to work with us to develop a long-term solution,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday defended the country’s hotel quarantine system as “99.99 per cent effective” at protecting the community against COVID-19.
He was responding to criticism from WA Premier Mark McGowan, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and high-profile medical bodies about the use of hotels.
The state government announced plans to move away from the hotel system in February, when Avalon Airport was being touted as a possible option.
It will be based on the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs model, which involves detached cabin-style buildings.
The business case for the proposed Mickleham facility includes the ability to scale up to 3,000 beds, Mr Merlino said.
There were 10 sites investigated for their potential use, with proximity to the airport, CBD and health services all being part of the business case.