The Queensland government could have made the decision to build a dedicated regional quarantine facility months ago, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Thursday announced the state had reached an agreement to build the facility at Wellcamp, Toowoomba, with the landowner, Wagner Corporation.
“As Australia contends with the dangerous Delta variant, Queensland must have alternatives to hotel quarantine that offer enhanced public safety,” Palaszczuk said in a statement.
“That’s why we’re getting on with building the Queensland Regional Accommodation Centre, a 1000-bed, dedicated facility near Wellcamp airport that will greatly reduce reliance on hotel quarantine. This decisive action will keep Queenslanders safe and support our economic recovery to keep people in jobs.”
Earlier this month the Queensland government signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government, giving it the green light to move forward with the construction of a quarantine facility at Pinkenba.
But the state has been unsuccessfully pushing the commonwealth for the Wellcamp facility since January.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the Wellcamp centre was urgently needed, and would be up and running ‘months before any other proposed facility in Queensland’.
“Following countless leaks from the nation’s hotel quarantine system, it’s clear there is an urgent need for alternative facilities in Australia,” he said.
When asked about the Pałaszczuk government’s announcement during a press conference on Thursday, Morrison said ‘good for them’.
“She’s been at liberty to do that for months. We’ve made it very clear that that facility did not seek to meet the national guidelines. And that’s why we’re going together, forward together at Pinkenba,” he said.
“But the Queensland government was always in a position to go ahead with that facility, if that’s what they wish to do and to have people quarantine there rather than in hotel facilities. That is entirely a matter for the Queensland government. And they’ve made that decision. And they could have done that months ago if that’s what they wished to do. But good for them. And I wish them every success.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese raised the subject again at Parliament, noting that ‘the document in the Constitution tells us that quarantine is a commonwealth responsibility’.
“Isn’t the only reason Queensland has been forced to go it alone is because the prime minister wouldn’t do his job?” Albanese asked.
“No,” Morrison responded.
Wagner Corporation will build the Wellcamp facility, and the Queensland government will operate it. The first stage of the facility is expected to be delivered for use by the end of the year.
Miles said quarantine centres would continue to be one of Australia’s frontline defences in preventing new strains of COVID-19 from entering the community.
“This facility will help Queensland to continue to open up and avoid expensive lockdowns,” he said.
“The Queensland government will continue to work collaboratively to progress the commonwealth’s Pinkenba facility, but we need more options to get returning Australians home safer.”
Contract awarded for WA facility
Meanwhile, construction company Multiplex has been chosen to build the federal government’s quarantine facility in Western Australia.
The centre will be built at a site on commonwealth-owned land within the Bullsbrook Training Area, according to finance minister Simon Birmingham.
“Whilst a number of sites around Perth were considered, the Bullsbrook site provides the best option for the centre to be delivered quickly and cost effectively, so that more international travel can be safely facilitated sooner,” he said.
“Multiplex is making strong progress in its work to deliver the Centre for National Resilience in Victoria, and I am pleased that we will be able to draw on their experience and expertise to deliver this centre in WA.”
The government has intended for the facility’s first 500 beds to be operational early next year.
Birmingham said that, when the centre was no longer needed for quarantine purposes, it would be available to support responses to natural disasters and other emergencies.
Read more: WA to house new quarantine facility