The federal government has reportedly decided to back Victoria’s proposal for purpose-built quarantine – just hours after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said a decision was “imminent”.
The Victorian government put the proposal to the federal government in late April, with a site at Mickleham, north of Melbourne, as its preferred option ahead of Avalon Airport near Geelong.
Victoria wants the Commonwealth to fund and build the 500-bed facility at a cost of $200 million.
It would chip in $15 million for design of the centre, and also operate it.
Late on Thursday afternoon, the ABC and Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper were reporting the federal government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Victorian government for the centre.
No further details were available.
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The proposal quickly became a political football between Victoria and Canberra, but Mr Frydenberg said on Thursday the federal government was close to a decision.
“We have said publicly we are favourably disposed [to the proposal] … a decision is imminent,” he told radio 3AW on Thursday.
“Avalon does have some very positive characteristics, obviously, being near an airport, and that’s relevant in this case.”
Later, on the ABC, he refused to be further drawn on when a decision was likely, saying only he expected it “within days”.
Mr Frydenberg again noted that the facility would be “over and above” the current hotel quarantine system.
He said the state government’s secondary option at Avalon had “very positive characteristics”.
Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino said he had a brief discussion with Prime Minister Scott Morrison about alternative quarantine arrangements on Wednesday night.
“Hotels are purpose-built for tourists. It’s what we have said for so long,” he said.
He said the Avalon proposal would work equally well compared to the Mickleham option.
“That is a call for the federal government,” Mr Merlino said.
The Victorian government, he said, would not accept a model that did not lower the risk of hotel quarantine leaks as the state continues to accept up to 1000 international travellers a week.
“Hotels are built for tourists. We need a purpose-built facility for our highest-risk travellers,” Mr Merlino said on Thursday.
“This is all about making our state and our nation safer.”
Under the state government proposal, an expansion of the facility to 3000 beds would take the cost to an estimated $700 million.
The Victorian government has said the facility could be ready by the end of 2021.
It would be based on the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility, with guests kept in separate cabins and more fresh air than quarantine hotels.
A purpose-built quarantine centre was proposed after February’s Holiday Inn outbreak, which sparked a five-day lockdown across Victoria.