An additional 2,000 stranded Australians could fly home under new government proposal

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The federal government wants to lift the number of returning travellers permitted to fly home to Australia by pressuring states and territories to ramp up their hotel quarantine capacity.  

Up to 2,000 extra stranded Australians would be allowed back into the country each week under the government’s proposal.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport Michael McCormack has written to premiers and chief ministers requesting the increase in places available for quarantine arrangements. 

He said the government wants this number boosted to allow the return of 6,000 Australians each week, up from the current cap of 4,000.  

“What we want to see is more Australians being able to come home,” Mr McCormack told reporters. 

“It has been a difficult situation for some trying to get home and we have acknowledged that. There are some heart-wrenching stories.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

AAP

Mr McCormack said this would include a 500-person increase to arrangements in NSW, with the same increases  taking place in Queensland and Western Australia, and a 360 place increase in South Australia. 

He said the government also wanted to see these quotas rise in Tasmania, the  Northern Territory and the ACT. 

Melbourne has stopped taking returning travellers into hotel quarantine because of its coronavirus outbreak.

South Australia has advised the Commonwealth it will increase its hotel quarantine capacity from 500 to 800 in coming weeks.

That will be split across three areas with 600 places for returning travellers, 100 for high-risk domestic arrivals and 100 to isolate locals impacted by any community outbreaks of the coronavirus.

In a statement, the state government said taking 600 international arrivals each week would double the current capacity.

“South Australia is pleased to be able to assist with supporting more Australians to return home,” the statement said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her state would accept an extra 500 returning Australians each week, provided other states double their intake.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

AAP

Ms Berejiklian, who has previously declared her state was doing the “lion’s share” of accepting returned travellers, said her offer was conditional on both Queensland and Western Australia doubling their intake from about 500 to 1000 people. 

“I was given an assurance (from the prime minister) other states would also take that load and on that basis I was very pleased to do our bit,” she said on Wednesday. 

“It would still only be about a third of what NSW is doing, but it certainly means they’d be sharing the load more.”

Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk has also indicated that she is willing to accommodate a larger quota of returning Australians in hotel quarantine if there’s capacity.

“I don’t want families to be separated by very, very long distances overseas when they are isolated and when a lot of countries are still in lockdown,” she said.

West Australian Labor Premier Mark McGowan has also signalled his state is willing to take more returned travellers provided they are quarantined in Commonwealth facilities.

Premier Mark McGowan said WA is already close to capacity for the number of people it can safely keep in eight hotels across Perth’s CBD.

The state government is considering using popular tourism spot Rottnest Island to house returned travellers, having done so earlier in the year.

In April, Rottnest Island housed returned travellers from South Africa.

In April and May, Rottnest Island housed returned travellers from South Africa.

AAP

“I don’t exactly want to close down Rottnest just before the school holidays when people have holidays booked,” Mr 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.”

Mr McGowan remains adamant the Commonwealth should consider having travellers quarantine at defence bases but appeared to backtrack from an earlier suggestion that the Christmas Island detention centre could be used.

“What I suggested yesterday was some of the Commonwealth facilities that are available but in particular, defence bases,” he said.

Christmas Island is currently housing convicted criminals and people whose visas were revoked but couldn’t be deported because of a lack of flights.

But the federal government is reluctant to use immigration detention centres in WA, arguing that would be inappropriate.

Additional reporting by AAP 

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