‘Too far away’: PM rejects Toowoomba quarantine plan

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is assessing plans for quarantine camps in Victoria and the Northern Territory, but has sent Queensland’s proposal back to the drawing board.

May 17, 2021, updated May 17, 2021
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Ampol Lytton Refinery in Brisbane (AAP Image/Darren England)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Ampol Lytton Refinery in Brisbane (AAP Image/Darren England)

Morrison said he had received comprehensive plans for camps at Bladin Point Worker Village in Darwin and another site on Commonwealth land about 40km north of Melbourne but the Toowoomba plan lacked detail and was impractical.

He has held talks with NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner about the proposal for Bladin Point, which is currently being used to quarantine US marines, to be utilised to isolate arriving farm workers.

“When those contracts finish then there is the opportunity to do further work there, particularly dealing with workforce requirements in the Territory,” he told reporters on Brisbane on Monday.

The federal government is also assessing Victoria’s proposal to construct a purpose-built quarantine facility at Mickleham north of Melbourne.

The 500-bed facility would cost about $200 million to build, with the state government committing $15 million to get the project ready for construction.

Morrison said there would be a response to the Victorian plan in coming weeks.

“There’s discussions going back and forth with the Victorian government, and I’ve got to say it’s a very constructive, positive process,” he said.

“There are other alternatives in Victoria as well, that we know that are available there, and they present some good opportunities as well.”

However, the prime minister rejected Queensland’s proposal for a quarantine camp near Toowoomba because it would be too far from a major capital city airport.

The Wagner Corporation wants to build a facility at Wellcamp Airport that would host up to 1000 travellers and 300 staff with the support of the state government.

Morrison said the facility would be too far from Brisbane airport and from any major state hospital.

“The idea that you can just put these out in the desert somewhere, and I know Toowoomba’s not in the desert but the point being (that) they need to be close to a major capital city airport.

“The planes aren’t going somewhere else, they’re coming into Brisbane, and that is a very long trek over to Toowoomba,” he said.

He said Queensland had not explained who would run the healthcare, where workers would come from, or how the facility would be funded.

The Victorian and NT government’s proposals would supplement, rather than replace, existing hotel quarantine programs, unlike Queensland’s plan, he said.

“The problem with it is, we’ve never actually had a proposal and the details, when you compare what’s been put forward by the Victorian government, is chalk and cheese,” he said.

“Victoria has put a very comprehensive proposal to us, something we can actually work with, and we are.”

The prime minister encouraged Queensland’s government to rethink their plan.

“If they were to do that, then they could expect the same sort of hearing that the Victorian government’s getting,” he said.

Meanwhile, one traveller who returned to Australia on board a repatriation flight from India has tested positive for coronavirus.

The person has been placed in isolation at the Howard Springs quarantine site on the outskirts of Darwin.

Northern Territory acting chief health office Charles Pain warned other passengers from the flight were undergoing further testing and the number of cases could rise.

“I have news this morning that probably only one – they’re still subject to further testing – but only one person has tested positive in that group,” Pain said on Monday.

“So the testing that was done in India has clearly been effective and has had the effect that we intended, which was that people wouldn’t come on the flights if they were positive.”

Passengers booked onto the charter flight were required to return two negative tests before boarding.

About half of the 150 passengers were turned away after testing positive or being deemed close contacts of positive cases.

Pain acknowledged being blocked must be “desperately disappointing” but said health authorities were working to get those who tested positive onto future charter flights.

“It’s expected that they will re-join the testing queue, or the queue to get on those flights, as soon as possible,” he said.

“It’s expected that some of those people who tested positive will return negative tests (next time).”

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