House debates

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Quarantine

2:28 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister, and I'll refer to his previous answer in relation to quarantine. Back in March, the Prime Minister announced that the capacity of the only national quarantine facility in Australia, at Howard Springs in the NT, would increase from 850 to 2,000 places by April-May. It's now 26 May. Why hasn't the Prime Minister delivered on that announcement, putting Australians at risk?

2:29 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm delighted to address quarantine in Australia. As many would be aware, in the last day there were over 500,000 cases worldwide of COVID-19; there were over 11,000 lives lost to COVID-19. What we know in Australia is that our single most significant prevention against this global pandemic, our first ring of containment against this global influx, is our border protection and our quarantine system. The element that the Commonwealth has put in place as part of that is the national resilience centre. The transfer of responsibility is underway between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory. I should note that the Northern Territory has actually requested that it take responsibility for the facility at Howard Springs—the opposite policy to that, which is being proposed by the opposition. But that's okay, we're working directly with Chief Minister Gunner on that front.

At this point, what we're seeing is that that capacity is being expanded. We have already brought home two flights recently from India, and we have seen a far lower rate of positivity. We had a 13 per cent rate of positivity amongst arrivals from India. We then paused those flights. We put in place rapid antigen testing, PCR testing, which was overseen by Qantas, and what we have seen is that the result of that is we have two changes in capacity, not just the number of beds that have increased but the capacity of the system to deal with positive cases, because the second great limit is high levels of cases. We saw significant opposition and criticism to our actions to prevent the influx of cases from India from those on the other side. What we have seen is the Leader of the Opposition playing with the idea of importing positive cases to Australia—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister for health will resume his seat. The minister for health will resume his seat. I have now asked the minister for health to resume his seat for the third time! The minister for health can resume his seat, full stop. I'm not going to be ignored. We'll go to the next question. I asked him three times to resume his seat.