Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 18 August 2021
Clairsy: The Australian and WA governments have teamed up to reach an agreement to build a 1000 bed quarantine facility here in WA Lisa.
Lisa : Yes, and joining us to talk more about it our Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Good morning, Simon.
Clairsy: Hey, Simon.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys. Good to be with you.
Lisa : So what exactly is this going to look like? What's being built?
Simon Birmingham: So what we're building is the quarantine facility that will ultimately be up to 1000 beds. We'll build the first 500 beds, ideally with construction starting by October and hoping to see those 500 beds in place by the end of March next year. And then pretty quickly thereafter, the additional 500 beds coming online as well to provide a safe and secure facility for the uncertainties we continue to face with COVID or indeed future emergencies that we need to respond to.
Clairsy: Okay, Simon this is pretty quick going if it starts in October with the way, you know, the demand is for building and trades and the rest of it right now. How are we working our way around that?
Simon Birmingham: It is we're definitely having to put the pedal to the metal, if you like, in terms of getting it done. We're using very much the designs that we've already got in place where we can from a facility we're building right now in Melbourne. So that construction is already underway, a whole series of modular construction. So think sort of your mining camp type units that that are built. And so that enables us to have multiple different businesses building those modular units at the same time.
Lisa : A preferred site has been identified as Jandakot, I'm guessing, because of its proximity to the airport, although I have no idea what the runway capacity is in terms of heavy aircraft that can land there. Is that something that is, you know, part of why Jandakot was considered as sort of a straight in straight to the quarantine thing? I don't know if it would take those sort of planes.
Simon Birmingham: Not quite, Lisa. The proximity to Perth International Airport was important for us. So we, you know, the rules we set out as the federal government were these facilities had to be close to an international airport that regularly takes in passenger flights and it is just too challenging to bring international flights into other airports that don't have the customs and the quarantine and all of those other states-
Lisa : I don't think that would have a long enough runway, I guess.
Simon Birmingham: And you've got that difficulty. In most places, exactly. But it's also got to be really close to major public hospitals and health facilities as well where you're handling these sorts of uncertainties.
Clairsy: Yeah, there's quite a lot to think about. Hey Simon, what about- a lot of people are going to ask the question about cost and what's the split between state and federal governments?
Simon Birmingham: So the federal government is picking up all of the tab for the construction and the state government will pick up the tab in terms of operating it as a quarantine facility for as long as it's needed for COVID. Then we will use it and have it as a national emergency response and resilience facility to deal with whatever uncertainties we face in the future. And if there's anything we've learnt over the last couple of years is there can be plenty of uncertainty thrown at us all.
Lisa : So, yeah, hopefully this is not forever. This pandemic, or at least under its current conditions, what were the facility be used for once we're through this?
Simon Birmingham: If not this sort of pandemic situation, then of course, other emergency health situations, responses potentially to natural disasters in providing emergency accommodation in those sorts of eventualities, responses such as perhaps right now what we're dealing with in terms of getting people out of Afghanistan in those tragic and terrible circumstances and having an ability to house them safely, securely for initial arrival in Australia. So there's a range of different purposes that we can see these sorts of facilities as a country. We'd already built one pre pandemic up in Darwin, expanded its use during COVID to be able to take more people. And as we've looked to the future, we can see that extra resilience capability is important for the country. And that's why we now have a network with Darwin, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane all expected to be operational by next year.
Clairsy: Okay, and a possibility in the future of more if required Simon, so I would imagine down the track?
Simon Birmingham: We'll keep a close eye on that. I mean, it's a judgement call. In fairness state governments, particularly like WA, have managed total quarantine very effectively, overwhelmingly very safely with hundreds of thousands of Australians returning to Australia during the pandemic and moving safely in and out of hotel quarantine. Yes, very minimal incidents from them. But obviously some of those incidents that had real consequences. And so, you know, having these extra facilities will give us an extra line of resilience in the future.
Lisa : All right. Well, good stuff. Thank you, Simon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys, my pleasure.