Federal Government Urges States to Lift Caps on International Arrivals

Federal Government Urges States to Lift Caps on International Arrivals
Vehicle checkpoint on the Pacific Highway on the Queensland-New South Wales border in Brisbane on April 15, 2020. (Patrick Hamilton /AFP via Getty Images)
Caden Pearson

The federal government is urging the states and territories to lift their caps on the number of international arrivals allowed into their jurisdictions ahead of the national cabinet meeting on Friday.

Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment Simon Birmingham told ABC Radio on Wednesday that the federal government had put forward a proposal for the national cabinet to work through.

Birmingham said he wanted to see states and territories work constructively with the federal government towards a solution.

"We don't want to see any repeat of the failure that happened in Victoria," said Birmingham.

"So whether it's standing up a new facility, looking at how we manage arrivals through airports, or which states we are seeing the growth in quarantine capacity in, we'll work with them to ensure that with their health officers there is absolute safety and all the right precautions are put in place."

Some states and territories have reportedly indicated that they are willing to agree to lift their caps, while others have not.

South Australia will reportedly lift its limit on arrival numbers to 800, but Queensland and Western Australia have not yet agreed to increase their numbers.

Western Australia's premier, Mark McGowan, wasn't happy that the deputy prime minister publicly announced the intention to lift the caps and not at the national cabinet meeting.

"We would consider it, but we want to have a proper conversation and proper consideration of it," he said, as reported by Perth Now, on Wednesday.

"I don't really like the fact that this has been sprung via a press conference without a discussion with the people required to actually implement it and I would have thought that is very directly outside the spirit of the national cabinet," he said.

Under the plan announced by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Western Australia would take an extra 500 international arrivals per week—almost double its current number.
McGowan suggested Australians returning home could be quarantined at immigration centres or army barracks. That said, he will reluctantly consider using the popular holiday destination Rottnest Island.

"I don't exactly want to close down Rottnest just before the school holidays when people have holidays booked," McGowan said.

"It may take some weeks for us to consider an option around Rottnest and that's something I'm happy to work with the Commonwealth on."

When asked by ABC Radio about this decision, Birmingham said: "It's up to them as to what they think will work best in their cities."

Commercial Airlines Will Be Used

National Labor leader Anthony Albanese wants the federal government to use official government and military aircraft to repatriate Australians instead of commercial airlines. However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Seven's Sunrise program the health advice says there is no need for it.

"We went through a process with our officials to work out the best way to get people home, and it's on commercial flights through the hotel quarantine system," said Morrison.

"There are plenty of commercial planes. They just need to lift the cap so they can run the services to Australia. It's the caps that were stopping the planes. We were happy to agree to the premiers' request [to put the caps in place] back in July, but we are over that hump now, and we can start lifting those caps," he said.

Morrison said an extra 2000 Australians a week would be allowed to return under the new plans.
Meanwhile, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has called for a standard medical-based definition of COVID-19 hotspots to be used to decide when borders should open and close.

"What doesn't make sense to us is we have states with low cases or no cases that are closed to other states," Joyce told ABC Radio National on Thursday.

"New South Wales has shown that we can keep things open with precautions and still keep the borders in control," he said.

Qantas has launched a petition calling for borders to be reopened more broadly.