State bid to increase weekly repatriations rejected by federal government

The Victorian government has been forced to revise a planned increase in repatriations after federal authorities rejected their bid to provide 120 additional places to people trying to return to the state.

The government had intended to increase the number of arrivals from 800 per week, to commence on April 8, to 1120 per week on April 15. Instead, 1000 arrivals will be allowed in Victoria per week.

Acting Premier James Merlino.Credit:Simon Schluter

The government insists the setback will not affect the number of seasonal workers that will come to Victoria under its quarantine arrangement with the Tasmanian government. Under the deal struck between the states in January, Tasmania agreed to oversee quarantine for 1500 Pacific Islanders while Victoria committed to providing quarantine for an extra 330 Australians abroad seeking to come home.

The government said they still expect all 332 Tasmanian residents to arrive by Thursday 13 May – at which time the cap can increase to 1,000 international travellers on commercial flights per week.

Acting Premier James Merlino said on Friday the number was cut when the federal government informed the state government that they been unable to organise the intended Tasmanian repatriation flights ahead of international travellers returning to Victoria.

“As a result, we have revised the caps on international arrivals coming into Victoria over the next month, to ensure we can safely accommodate both international travellers on commercial flights and the Tasmanian cohort,” Mr Merlino said in a statement.

“From Thursday 15 April, 1,000 passengers a week will be accepted into the hotel quarantine program, with 120 of those places available for the Tasmanian residents arriving on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade repatriation flights.

“This is a disappointing outcome which would have resulted in an increase in economic activity for our state. We will continue to work with the Commonwealth and utilise these places as soon as this matter is agreed to.”

The Victorian government currently expect all 332 Tasmanian residents to arrive by Thursday 13 May – at which time the cap can increase to 1,000 international travellers on commercial flights per week.

A federal government spokesman said that National Cabinet agreed in September last year that “any facilitation of special commercial services would be carried out through the jurisdictions of South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“This ensured agreements on existing international commercial routes into other jurisdictions remained viable and weren’t compromised. Victoria’s offer of assistance was made to Tasmania in the first instance, not the Commonwealth,” the spokesman said.

There are just over 35,000 Australians still registered to return home.

It comes as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pleaded with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to reduce travel limits into the northern state, saying that every day they were taking in up to nine overseas travellers infected with coronavirus, straining hotel quarantine and the state’s hospitals.

Ms Palaszczuk pledged to raise the issue at next week’s national cabinet, saying the high number of positive cases that were coming in from overseas was putting excessive demand on Queensland health and quarantine services.

Last week Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said he was confident Victoria will have enough hotel beds to house returned travellers when international flights arrive, as 10 hotels are upgraded to ensure ventilation systems do not increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading from returned travellers to quarantine workers.

With Cloe Read

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