Defence Minister Peter Dutton has lashed out at Victoria’s request for federal money to build a new quarantine hub, describing the move as political smoke and mirrors.
The senior minister’s rebuke of the state government signals the Commonwealth is unlikely to support the proposal for a specialised facility on Melbourne’s northern fringe.
The 500-bed quarantine centre relies on $200 million in federal funding with Victoria chipping in $15 million for design and planning.
“I have seen some political smoke and mirrors over my time and I think this is right at the top of the list,” Mr Dutton told the Nine Network.
Quarantine arrangements will remain high on national cabinet’s agenda when Scott Morrison meets premiers and chief ministers on Friday.
The federal government is adamant hotels remain the preferred option to house people coming from overseas despite state pleas to set up purpose-built facilities.
Mr Dutton said aside from some blips, the existing system had allowed 500,000 people to enter Australia safely.
“Hotels are working very well,” he said.
“They are able to be scaled up. It gives us the ability to bring people in, quarantine them and send them back home to get on with their lives.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said the federal government had shirked its constitutional responsibility for quarantine.
“Hotels are not fit for purpose,” he told Nine.
“Quarantine is the government’s job. The federal government’s job. They have had advice from the middle of last year that they should have purpose-built facilities to deal with quarantine.”
Mr Marles said hotel quarantine leaks had caused major state capitals to be shut down at huge economic cost.
National cabinet will also consider classifying more countries as high risk with India the sole nation on Australia’s list.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly and foreign affairs officials have been putting together a list of high-risk countries for consideration.
India set another gut-wrenching world record on Thursday with more than 379,000 new cases and 3645 deaths.
Flights from there have been paused until at least May 15, leaving thousands of Australians trying to escape the disease disaster even more stranded than before.
Mr Dutton said the government would close a loophole allowing travellers to dodge the travel ban by transiting through Qatar.
“That will be given effect very quickly,” he said.
Two Australian cricketers who had been playing in the Indian Premier League took advantage of the loophole to make a dash for home this week.
Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson touched down in Melbourne late on Thursday afternoon via a commercial flight from Qatar.
Elsewhere, the coronavirus vaccine rollout appears to be slowly gaining momentum with more than 80,000 shots in the most recent 24-hour reporting period taking the overall tally past 2.1 million doses.