The WA Premier and the Prime Minister remain at loggerheads over plans to increase international arrivals to the state, with Mark McGowan saying state and territory leaders “are not children for [Canberra] to boss around”.
The federal government has written to the leaders of states and territories, asking them to boost hotel quarantine capacity, to allow more Australians stuck overseas to return home.
Despite not yet having an agreement from states including WA, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated the number of people allowed into Australia each week will increase by 2,000 next Friday.
Speaking on Channel Nine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said WA would be well supported by the ADF personnel already in WA to allow for an additional 500 arrivals per week.
“In Western Australia there will be about one ADF officer for every ten people who come in and that’s just with the ADF they have got now,” he said.
“I think that decision has been made, that starts Friday week.”
He said under the federal government’s plan, people would go through normal hotel quarantine arrangements.
“This is going to let West Australians come home to Western Australia, Queenslanders come home to Queensland,” he said.
But Mr McGowan said he felt “ambushed” by the Commonwealth’s request after finding out about it through a journalist at a media conference on Wednesday.
He said any additional intake into WA would require significantly increased Commonwealth support.
“The ADF should be helping us, the Australian Border Force should be helping us, the Australian Federal Police should be helping us to manage all of these things,” he said.
“It is actually the Commonwealth’s responsibility so, you know, they seem to be ignoring the law.
“The Constitution, Section 51 , says quarantine is a responsibility of the Commonwealth, immigration and foreign affairs the Commonwealth. I have not interfered in foreign affairs. I mean they need to take responsibility for the things that are their responsibility.”
A Defence spokesperson said there were 160 Defence personnel currently in WA undertaking “planning support and quarantine assistance”.
“Since early September, the ADF has agreed to provide up to 90 personnel to support WA health with hotel quarantine compliance,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“There has been no request from WA authorities for additional personnel to assist with hotel quarantine compliance at this time.”
Mr McGowan was unhappy that the discussion about international arrivals was playing out in the media ahead of the National Cabinet meeting on Friday.
“Bossing people around, basically saying they are just going to fly people in and dump them on our doorstep is not the way to conduct these matters,” Mr McGowan said.
“I have been in Parliament the longest of any of the Premiers and the Prime Minister by a long way and I have not seen the Commonwealth act this way.
“All I would say to the Commonwealth government is they have to work with us on what the solution is here.”
WA Health Minister Roger Cook yesterday said the requested increase would stretch the state’s hotel quarantine system dramatically.
“It would mean that the standard that we required at our hotels to ensure we keep Western Australians safe will struggle to be met, so this is a really dangerous act by the Commonwealth,” he said.
Mr McGowan said he would consider lifting WA’s cap of 525 people per week if the Commonwealth allowed the arrivals to be quarantined in federally run army bases or detention centres, something the federal government quickly rejected.
Mr McGowan has also flagged the possibility of reopening Rottnest Island as a quarantine facility.