Daniel Andrews has been lashed as “despicable” for suggesting stranded Australians could be blocked from returning home, as the idea drives a wedge between federal and state Labor.
Victoria was plunged into its third lockdown on Saturday after the highly-contagious UK COVID-19 strain leaked out of the state’s quarantine system.
But announcing the five-day lockdown on Friday, Mr Andrews flagged a “cold, hard discussion” on barring 40,000 stranded Australians from returning unless given a compassionate exemption.
The comments were at odds with federal Labor, which has accused the Prime Minister of abandoning Australians stuck overseas and demanded a beefed-up repatriation effort.
Liberal MP Tim Wilson lashed the idea as “denying Australians access to their own country”.
“It’s a despicable plan, a callous, and cold-hearted one,” he told the ABC.
“There are Australians who have been desperate to get back into the country, but have had flights cancelled all over the place. They have a right to come home.”
Federal Labor frontbencher Jason Clare rejected Mr Andrews’ suggestion, insisting it was the “right of all Australians” to return home.
But he insisted vulnerable Australians should be prioritised.
A COVID-19 cluster originating at the Melbourne Airport’s Holiday Inn quarantine centre has prompted calls to review the hotel quarantine system.
Mr Wilson claimed a three-month lockdown in 2020, which forced Melbourne Airport to close, was “half the reason” so many Australians remained stuck overseas.
“NSW has taken the overwhelming number of Australians returning home. They’ve managed to get hotel quarantine to work,” he said.
“The simple expectation is the Victorian Government could do the same.”
But Mr Clare accused the Coalition of “washing its hands” of its responsibilities by passing quarantine to the states.
“If the Federal Government is critical of what’s happening here, well then do it yourself. They certainly could. It’s their responsibility,” he said.
“With all the land the Commonwealth owns, with the help of the Army, the navy and the air force, you can’t tell me that the Government couldn’t do more here.
“Just like the bushfires, they say: It’s not our responsibility. I don’t hold a hose, I don’t fly a plane, I don’t run quarantine.”
Australian Defence Force personnel arrived in Victoria last week to assist the state’s quarantine effort.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February confirmed talks over expanding capacity at the NT’s federally-run Howard Springs quarantine facility.
Capacity was 850 arrivals per fortnight but Mr Morrison claimed it could rise “well beyond that”.
“We have got repatriation flights, where flights have been cancelled, particularly from significant destinations. We do have a Howard Springs facility that’s being used,” Mr Wilson said.
“So the Federal Government is working with the states to fill the gap, but they have to be able to support and work with us as well.”