The cap on international travellers coming into Australia looks set to be slashed as the country deals with widespread outbreaks of coronavirus.
Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia have spent the week calling for a drastic cut to the weekly cap.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wants to reduce the returned traveller cap by between 50 and 80 per cent for the next three to four months. He will argue for such a cut at national cabinet on Friday.
“We have it within our power to dramatically reduce the number of people who are coming back just for these next three or four months until we get a critical mass of people with a jab,” he said on Thursday.
He said Australia found itself in “no man’s land”, with little over 7 per cent of people fully vaccinated and the more infectious Delta strain circulating as part of national outbreaks.
But the change would “difficult for some people who want to come home for the best of reasons”, Mr Andrews said.
“It won’t be easy to lock some people out. But locking some people out is much better than locking everybody down,” he said.
“That’s my position and that’s what I’ll argue at national cabinet.”
Mr Andrews has joined Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in pushing for a reduction in overseas returnees. On Thursday, she said she had already written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeking to halve arrivals into Queensland to 500 a week.
“I apologised to Queenslanders as we went into lockdown. No one wants to see this happen, but as everyone knows, our systems are stretched,” she said.
“This virus is incredibly contagious. It is the Delta virus. Our hotels were not built to contain it and, obviously, you see that our hospitals are not built to contain it either.”
Mr Andrews said he could easily write to Mr Morrison with a similar request.
“I don’t want to do that. I want it to be a national approach, and I want the rules to be as close to being the same in every state so that we’re open,” he said.
Another Labor premier, Western Australia’s Mark McGowan, also backs lower numbers.
“We’ve done our utmost to make hotels as safe as possible, but there’s still that risk,” he said.
“One of the problems … is so many Australians have gone overseas in the course of the last 18 months unnecessarily.
“People book a conference somewhere in Europe then have a holiday while they’re over there, then come back and join the queue. It’s just not right.”
The federal government has so far pushed back against the proposal.
But Finance Minister Simon Birmingham struck a markedly different tone ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
“We’ve shown a willingness to adjust based on changed risk profiles and we’ll always look at that,” he said.
Senator Birmingham cited the India travel ban and limits imposed at the start of the pandemic as examples of responsive restrictions.
More than 51,000 outbound travel exemptions have been approved since the start of 2021.
But Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram said 52,000 applications have been refused.
“The idea we’re just letting people travel on a whim is actually fake,” he told ABC radio.
“We’re actually being really tough on this.”
More than 10,000 Australians have been approved to leave the country on compassionate or compelling grounds since the start of this year.
Another 27,000 have been allowed overseas for study or work, with the remainder of exemptions granted to people employed in critical industries.
Victoria, South Australia and WA had no new local COVID cases on Thursday. The Northern Territory had one, while there were two in Queensland and 24 in NSW.