Labor now wants Aussies home by February

Labor is urging Scott Morrison to get all stranded Australians home by February so the country can concentrate on welcoming back international students.

The opposition is also calling on the prime minister to seize control of quarantine facilities from the states.

Almost 40,000 Australians are still stuck overseas with little prospect of making it back for Christmas.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described the backlog as a failure of government.

“This is a great example of the gap that is there between what Scott Morrison announces, which was that everyone would be home by Christmas, and what he actually delivers,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“In this case that is 40,000 families around Australia who will have an empty seat at their Christmas lunch table this year because of the government’s failure.”

Labor is now setting its sights on the start of the academic year.

It wants the Commonwealth to take charge of quarantine to ease the log jam of people in hotel isolation.

Mr Albanese has suggested imposing exclusion zones around quarantine facilities and opening up additional centres at air force bases, as recommended by former Department of Health secretary Jane Halton.

A Labor-dominated inquiry has also recommended the government set up an Australian Centre for Disease Control to improve the nation’s pandemic preparedness.

In April, a Senate committee was tasked with inquiring into the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While its final report is not due until June 2021, an interim report was tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

The committee recommended the government permanently raise the level of the JobSeeker unemployment benefit and monitor the impact of its decision to reduce the coronavirus supplement.

As well, the government should review spending on the COVIDSafe app and publish details of meetings of the  Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

Labor committee chair Katy Gallagher said the inquiry found deficiencies in the federal government’s preparation and early response to the pandemic.

Key to the response had been the state and territory governments who “forced the hand of the federal government who was resisting pressure to take stronger action”.

She outlined five areas of deficiency: the lack of a plan to protect aged care residents, the Ruby Princess cruise ship failures, national leadership, the COVIDSafe app and the failure to make an early decision on paid pandemic leave.

Coalition senators’ dissenting report said it was disappointing the majority of the findings included gratuitous partisanship and point-scoring.

They did not agree Australia was under-prepared for the pandemic, arguing the country was able to rapidly customise its response and target measures to better meet the characteristics of the virus.

Since the pandemic began earlier this year, 28,000 Australians have contracted the virus and 908 have died.

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