Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has left the door open to drastically slashing international arrival caps after the latest coronavirus outbreak.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews raised a smaller arrivals program based on compassionate grounds as his state went into a snap lockdown on the back of infections stemming from hotel quarantine.
Mr McCormack said there was room for a discussion on reduced arrival caps but argued federal Labor was at odds with Mr Andrews.
“We’d obviously like to get every Australian back as soon as possible but there are quarantine restrictions, of course. There are limits on those numbers coming back in,” he told the ABC on Monday.
“There’s only a certain number of places and Australia has helped that by facilitating paid-for flights to get back into the country.”
Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally continues to attack the government over the growing list of stranded Australians registered to return home.
The Labor frontbencher believes the Victorian premier’s suggestion to cut arrival caps is motivated by the Morrison government’s refusal to take over quarantine from states.
“The problems that exist in hotel quarantine today are because of we have not had national leadership to take responsibility here,” Senator Keneally told Sky News.
Brisbane and Perth have also endured mini-lockdowns after hotel quarantine workers became infected.
The federal government is looking at ways to boost the capacity of the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine hub after concerns about capital city hotels.
A proposal for a quarantine centre in the Queensland regional city of Toowoomba is also under consideration.
Mr McCormack confirmed the first shipment of Pfizer vaccines is due to arrive this week, keeping the start of the rollout on track for the end of February.
The government is talking up the prospects of the nationwide effort to make jabs available to Australians by the end of October.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is confident events like the AFL grand final will be able to welcome a full house.
“How quickly crowds build up in the early part of the season, whether in Victoria or anywhere else, will be a bit like the vaccine – it’s going to start slow and it’s going to ramp up,” he told the Herald Sun.
Mr Morrison is also putting the pressure on Mr Andrews to tackle the “big challenge” of allowing workers to return to the CBD.
“Maintaining a vibrant CBD for Melbourne is incredibly important for Victoria’s economic prosperity and future and employment. For that to occur, people have got to work there and be there,” he said.
Victoria recorded one new locally acquired case of coronavirus on Monday, which is the third day of a five-day lockdown.
Australia has paused quarantine-free travel from New Zealand after three infections were recorded in Auckland.