• John McDonnell

Gladys Berejiklian exposes the flaws in Labor’s quarantine plan


On Sunday, Labor put some more flesh on the bones of its plan for purpose-built quarantine facilities. Deputy Labor leader, Richard Marles, told ABC’s Insiders that the opposition believed that purpose-built facilities should largely replace hotel quarantine.


He said that the Commonwealth should build purpose-built facilities in all the states.


This came after the Morrison government had rejected a proposal from the Palaszczuk government that it build a quarantine facility on private land near Toowoomba in Queensland.


There were indications over the weekend that the NSW government wanted the federal government to finance a purpose-built facility at Richmond airbase on the outskirts of Sydney. NSW treasurer Dominic Perrotet told the media on Friday that he believed that NSW would be putting forward a proposal.


On Monday, the prime minister and the NSW premier, met at Richmond airbase to discuss its redevelopment. At the ensuing press conference, both leaders were quizzed about quarantine facilities.


Premier Berejiklian told journalists that the NSW government would not be putting forward a proposal for a purpose-built quarantine facility.


At the present time, the state was dealing with a cap of 5,000 travellers at a time. There were currently 7,000 people in quarantine in NSW. The NSW premier said that these people were being managed within the hotel quarantine system without incident. NSW did not have the resources or the capacity to care for more travellers. The premier said that she did not see any reason to move away from hotel quarantine because the NSW model worked.


The critical element of Ms Berejiklian’s response is that it reveals the extent of the commitment to replace hotel quarantine. NSW would require a facility approximately four times the size of the current Howard Springs facility to be built somewhere around Sydney. Assuming a suitable piece of Commonwealth land could be found, the cost of building such a facility, based on the Howard Springs model, would be $3.5 billion.


The prime minister ruled out the prospect of Richmond being used as a quarantine facility. He said that its purpose was to be a military base and to support national security objectives. Mr Morrison claimed the establishment of a quarantine facility would detract from this. The prime minister reaffirmed that hotel quarantine would be the dominant form of quarantine for the time being.


When chief health officer, Professor Paul Kelly, was asked about quarantine facilities on Monday, he said that the AHPPC had been asked to look at quarantine. At the moment they recommended no change to the hotel quarantine system but said that this might change when vaccination was more ubiquitous. The CHO said that the national cabinet had commissioned a review of hotel quarantine, in the light of the vaccination program and he said this would be an extensive analysis that would take into account the need to permit more international travel.


Labor’s demand for more purpose-built facilities is looking more and more like focus-group driven policy. This is made apparent by the recitation of minder-polished lines like “21 leaks from hotel quarantine” and “Victoria’s lockdown is due to the Morrison government’s failure with hotel quarantine”.


When Labor spokespeople are asked how they would manage the quarantine system, the response is that they are not in government and it is up to the government to lead rather than outsourcing the problem to the states.


As Gladys Berejiklian shows, the best states are happy to take the responsibility for managing quarantine and they do it better than anyone else.