By Colin MacGillivray
MEMBER for McEwen Rob Mitchell has welcomed the start of construction on a new quarantine facility at Mickleham, but slammed the Federal Government for unnecessarily delaying the project.
The Federal Government’s newly-named Centre for National Resilience, which will have the capacity to house up to 1000 returned overseas travellers when completed, was confirmed for Mickleham earlier this year.
Construction contractor Multiplex began works at the site on Donnybrook Road in mid-August.
The first 500 beds at the facility are expected to be open by Christmas.
Mr Mitchell said he was thrilled the project was finally going ahead but lambasted the government for delivering the project ‘18 months too late’.
“You’ve got to give the credit to the Andrews [State] Government for getting this going, because for [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison every problem is someone else’s fault or someone else’s responsibility,” Mr Mitchell said.
“He doesn’t seem to have realised that the constitution states that quarantine is his responsibility.
“The Federal Government has spent more time arguing over the name of this facility than actually building it.
“We’re nearly two years into the pandemic and we’re finally now getting earthworks started because of a push by the State Government.”
Mr Mitchell said the lack of a dedicated federal quarantine system had cost states dearly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They should have started it last year, and we’ve faced unnecessary lockdowns because they didn’t build quarantine and didn’t get us vaccines. That’s the reason we’re in this mess,” he said.
“Now that it’s starting … it means less and less chance that we’re going to have quarantine failures in hotels that aren’t designed for that purpose.”
Mr Mitchell said the new facility, apart from stopping quarantine leaks, would provide jobs locally during its construction.
He said Mickleham was an ideal spot for the centre.
“Now we’re starting to see movement on this, I strongly welcome the jobs and the opportunities it will mean for us. It means we’ve got more of a chance of getting on top of the health crisis, which means getting the economy back on track,” he said.
“I’m really keen to see it done. Some people have been concerned about it, but it’s right next to where we built the [animal] quarantine facility, so there’s no housing nearby. It’s in a good spot close to the airport and it’s not far from healthcare and hospitals if needed.”
Mr Mitchell said despite Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout beginning to gather pace, there was still an urgent need for a dedicated quarantine facility.
“The quicker it gets done the quicker we can start bringing home some of the 35,000 Australians stranded overseas,” he said.
“We’ve got to remember that with people stranded overseas … some have had to go for work and for family reasons and they’ve been stuck there. Some of them can’t get work, they can’t pay their mortgages here and they can’t see their families.
“It’s been very tough for people who have been stuck overseas for 18 months, and the government so far has just abandoned them.”
Federal Minister for Finance Simon Birmingham said the facility would increase Australia’s ability to safely return travellers.
“This centre will supplement existing quarantine arrangements during the pandemic and be available to respond to future natural disasters or future health crises in the years to come,” he said.
“I thank the Victorian government for the very constructive partnership on this project including the work that has been done with them to design these facilities.”