NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged Queensland and Western Australia to double their intake of returning Australians, after reaching an agreement with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to increase her state’s daily cap from 350 to 420 people.
Ms Berejiklian, who previously declared NSW was doing the “lion’s share” of accepting returned travellers, said her offer was conditional on both Queensland and Western Australia increasing their intake from about 500 to 1000 people.
“I was given an assurance (from the Prime Minister) other states would also take that load and on that basis I was very pleased to do our bit,” she said on Wednesday.
“It would still only be about a third of what NSW is doing, but it certainly means they’d be sharing the load more.”
Ms Berejiklian consulted with NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who is in charge of hotel quarantine, before deciding to accept the extra 500 travellers, which she described as a “manageable” load for NSW.
“I hope NSW is leading by example,” she said.
“We know a lot of Australians are going through difficult situations – we never ask what state they’re from, we just welcome them and support them in every way we can.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack had earlier urged states to take more Australians returning from overseas through expanded hotel quarantine programs.
The federal Transport Minister wants the national weekly cap to rise from 4000 to 6000 to get more of the 25,000 people stranded abroad home.
Under Mr McCormack’s plan, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia would lift state caps by 500 people a week.
South Australia would take an extra 360 people, with Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory encouraged to take as many as possible.
Mr McCormack has written to premiers and chief ministers asking for their support ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
“I want to make sure that more Australians can return home,” he said in Wagga Wagga on Wednesday.
South Australian Liberal Premier Steven Marshall has floated increasing his state’s cap of returning Australians from 500 to 800.
“We do need to step up and take more,” he told ABC radio.
He said the state is not using all of its 500 places.
West Australian Labor Premier Mark McGowan has also signalled his state is willing to take more returned travellers provided they are quarantined in Commonwealth facilities.
But the federal government is reluctant to use immigration detention centres in WA.
Mr McGowan has suggested reopening Rottnest Island as a quarantine centre to help facilitate the increase in returning travellers.
The ACT is open to taking 150 a fortnight on a single chartered flight, provided federal police and the defence force are enlisted to help.
The federal opposition is demanding that idle air force aircraft be used to bring people back to Australia during the coronavirus pandemic.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese also wants the government to run its own quarantine programs alongside state hotel programs.
“What we have is a prime minister saying, ‘it’s all too hard’ at the moment,” he told ABC television.
“There’s 25,000 Australians stranded. We know many of them are absolutely desperate to get home.”
Mr Albanese said the government should also look at chartering Qantas planes and using other air force aircraft to bring people home.
He called for Commonwealth-run quarantine at the Christmas Island immigration detention centre and Howard Springs, near Darwin, both of which were used early in the pandemic.
Labor is supportive of lifting the arrivals cap of 4000 a week.
But Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has labelled Labor’s demands a “stunt”.
Airlines have acknowledged they are cancelling economy and, increasingly, business class tickets so they can prioritise higher-paying customers to remain profitable.
MPs and senators from across the political divide have faced calls from constituents to do more for family and friends stuck abroad.
State borders are beginning to slowly reopen, with South Australia lifting restrictions on people from the ACT overnight.
Queensland is considering relaxing its trigger to allow people from NSW and the ACT in from 28 days with no community transmission of the virus to 14 days.
Victoria had 42 new cases on Wednesday and eight deaths, taking the national toll to 824.
From midnight, people outside Melbourne will enjoy more freedom with restrictions on leaving home and businesses eased.
Melbourne will move to its next step of reopening on September 28 if the 14-day case average falls below 50.
On Wednesday, it slipped below 50 for the first time during the deadly second wave.