The man responsible for enforcing Australia’s international borders has resisted growing calls for a federal quarantine facility for return travelers.
More than 25,000 Australians have been stranded abroad due to the closure of international borders.
The Commonwealth has imposed a weekly limit on Australian returning to ease the pressure on the states’ hotel quarantine systems.
Thousands of Australians are trying to get home but are unable to get on board.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese wants the prime minister to use RAAF planes to bring them home.
“He is clearly in charge of our country borders, he is clearly in charge of quarantine issues and he has clear access to the infrastructure through the RAAF VIP fleet, which can now be built,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
“This would be a practical step that would make a big difference.”
Western Australia has joined calls for a federal quarantine facility for returning Australians after the Northern Territory said it is open to more international arrivals near Darwin.
But Michael Outram, the Australian Border Force Commissioner, said the proposal was not possible.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government set up quarantine centers on Christmas Island and Howard Springs in the NT to house people returning from China and Japan.
Christmas Island is now used as a detention center.
Mr Outram said Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) used to man Howard Springs are detained elsewhere.
He said the doctors, nurses and paramedics were from the states and territories.
“Quarantine facilities cannot be run without medical professionals on site,” Outram told ABC Radio.
“At this point, I think AUSMAT capacity would be quite stretched because of the need for states and territories to run their own health services, plus other things that are happening around the pandemic.”
Mr Outram said the ABF is working with the states to maximize the quarantine capacity of hotels, with about 12,000 beds available at any given time.
“But it’s not enough if I’m honest,” he said.
“As long as the caps stay in place with the hotel’s quarantine, it will be difficult to imagine a situation where the airlines are going to carry more passengers.”
The infrastructure department works with international airlines to manage inbound flights.
“If that (hotel quarantine) cap was doubled overnight, we would be very happy, we could certainly help those people across the border,” said Mr Outram.
“I have no doubt that the airlines would take up the extra capacity.”
Mr Outram defended his decision to let movie star Tom Hanks and his entourage into the country, while so many Australians were desperate to go home.
The ABF boss said boosting economic activity was a factor to consider.
But Mr. Outram insisted that business travelers should not have priority over those who travel on compassionate grounds.
People trying to leave the country will also have to make their case, as 47,000 people have been granted travel exemptions since the border closed in March.
Tony Abbott was recently allowed to travel to London as a representative of Australia, under a category that also houses ministers and defense personnel.
Mr Outram said the former prime minister has been allowed to file a parliamentary inquiry in the UK.