Question without notice: My question is for the Premier. We are faced with the dilemma of choosing between the return of Australians from overseas into hotel quarantine in major cities like Melbourne, with all the consequent risks and the possibility of further major impacts on our economy at every level and on our schoolchildren, who have missed out on so much and would miss out on so much more if further lockdowns occur. While Australians should be gradually returned home, it is apparent that the current hotel quarantine system comes with too many risks. Premier, would you seek to suspend all future international flights into Melbourne until such time as an alternative secure facility away from a major population centre such as Melbourne is put in place?
Mr ANDREWS (Premier): I thank the member for Shepparton for her question. I can confirm for the member for Shepparton that I yesterday wrote to the Prime Minister and indicated to him that I am unable to nominate a date at which flights into Melbourne will resume, and the reason I am unable to do that is that we have asked a number of our medical experts to look at the impact of this UK strain and potentially the South African strain—that is a changing virus, a changing dynamic—and what that means not just for hotel quarantine but for our entire coronavirus response across the board. Some are not accepting of its greater infectivity—they apparently are epidemiological experts. When I set up an expert panel it does not include Bernie Finn or Bev McArthur or this joker here. It is real experts who actually know what they are talking about, and what is more, we follow their advice.
The SPEAKER: Order! I ask the Premier to resume his seat. I just remind the Premier to refer to members by their correct titles.
Mr ANDREWS: I was of course referring to the Leader of the Opposition. I will say that the member for Shepparton asked me a very serious question. We will construct a purpose-built facility. The exact location of that and the timing of that will be the subject of a proper process. I cannot, however—
Mr Wells interjected.
Mr ANDREWS: Well, apparently it has already been decided.
Mr Wells interjected.
The SPEAKER: Order! The Manager of Opposition Business!
Mr ANDREWS: That is just simply wrong, and the tactic of some to just keep repeating it in the vain hope that it becomes the truth—no, that will not work, I am afraid. If that worked, you would not be sitting over there in such small numbers. We will go through a proper process. I cannot confirm for the member for Shepparton or any Victorian when those flights will resume, for a range of reasons. I think that it is wrong to connect the inability to provide a resumption date with the construction of a purpose-built facility; those two things are separate. But I will pick up on the concern, I am sure, within the member for Shepparton’s local community and all communities about the infectivity of this virus and the fact that we have seen breaches out of hotel quarantine in Brisbane; in Sydney, although in Sydney it was the harder one to get than the UK strain; here in Melbourne—we know that; in Adelaide; and in Perth. These are challenges that should be addressed at a national level, and I am confident they will be.
We are determined to build a facility much like the Howard Springs facility at a suitable location—a location determined by officials, I might say—and it will be constructed as soon as it can be.
Those opposite just show themselves to be completely irrelevant. I say to the member for Shepparton and her community: safety first. When we can advise about that facility and when we can advise about the return of flights, we will do so.
Supplementary question – Ms SHEED (Shepparton): Premier, you have flagged the possibility of an alternative quarantine facility at Avalon Airport. Can you explain what options have been explored for regional quarantine facilities and how the government would manage the risk of quarantine staff spreading the virus into regional areas if this policy was adopted?
Mr ANDREWS (Premier) I thank the member for Shepparton for her supplementary question. I would have thought and I would hope that the very difficult decisions we took last Friday, and many others that we have taken along this global pandemic journey, have demonstrated to regional Victoria that we are—I am—prepared to make the difficult decisions to keep the virus out of regional Victoria, not to play popular, not to play the kind of cheap stuff that we have seen from some. We will take the decisions that are necessary to keep this virus out of regional Victoria and to, in partnership with regional communities
The SPEAKER: Order! Leader of the Opposition!
Mr ANDREWS: Not to shout at the virus—that does not work, Leader of the Opposition. It does not work. Like so many of the things you are on about, it does not work. We will follow advice. We will do everything we can to protect the virus-free status of regional Victoria, and I assure the member for Shepparton that if she wants to engage with me on this issue, as she always does constructively—and with quite the record of delivery and achievement, I might add—I am more than happy to do that.