© Provided by The GuardianPhotograph: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images
A showdown is looming at Friday's national cabinet meeting as state leaders clash with Scott Morrison over easing international arrival caps to help repatriate more than 27,000 stranded Australians.
The prime minister on Thursday stressed his desire for state leaders to cumulatively increase the national weekly arrival cap from 4,000 to 6,000 as "a decision" and "not a proposal".
However, the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, has said the state will increase its arrival cap only if the federal government provides additional personnel and resources to expand hotel quarantine, declaring: "We are not children for [the commonwealth] to boss around."
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The deputy prime minister Michael McCormack, this week publicly announced the specific requests for each state's increase without their prior agreement, with an expectation that both WA and Queensland will each open up 500 additional hotel quarantine spots a week to effectively double their intakes. © Photograph: Matt Jelonek/Getty ImagesMark McGowan says he has not agreed to any specific plan for Western Australia to take more international arrivals and 'we are not children for [the commonwealth] to boss around'.
The government is also asking New South Wales to boost Sydney's weekly intake by 500, to about 2,950 passengers a week - an increase the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has agreed to on the condition that WA and Queensland also agree to the increases requested of them.
Asked what will happen if states do not agree to increase their arrival caps at Friday's national cabinet, Morrison remained insistent that "the planes will land with people on them and they'll be arriving".
"It's a decision. It's not a proposal," he said. "The commonwealth government has made a decision that those caps have been moved to those levels and planes will be able to fly to those ports carrying that many passengers a week. And two weeks ago we discussed this at national cabinet. All premiers agreed that we had to do better."
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However, McGowan said he had not agreed to any specific plan for Western Australia to take more international arrivals.
He said he was open to increasing WA's intake but would only do so if additional resources - including defence force, federal police and border force personnel - were provided to help keep additional hotel quarantine secure.
"If the commonwealth wants to send another 500 Australians a week to Western Australia from overseas, that we then need to work on arrangements to quarantine, we will need significant commonwealth support to do that."
McGowan also urged the federal government to consider using defence facilities as temporary quarantine sites so they did not have to rely on the states to increase their hotel quarantine places.
"Basically saying they're just going to fly people in and dump them on our doorstep is not the way to conduct these matters," McGowan said.
"They seem to be ignoring the law. The constitution section 51 says quarantine is the responsibility of the commonwealth."
When Guardian Australia on Thursday asked Berejiklian if she was aware of McGowan's position, and if she would increase NSW's caps if WA did not, she declined to comment.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said she would be open to taking more arrivals, but on Thursday her spokesman told Guardian Australia there was no change to her position that Queensland would need the federal government's support to take more arrivals into hotel quarantine.
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On Wednesday, South Australian premier Steven Marshall said the state would increase its cap from 500 to 800 a week, but that only 600 of those would be for international arrivals, with the rest set aside for interstate quarantine.
The ACT chief minister, Andrew Barr, said Canberra could take one flight every 14 to 18 days of about 150 people, but that federal police and the defence force would need to be made available to help enforce quarantine.
Melbourne will continue to take no international passengers while it is containing its second wave of Covid-19.
The caps were introduced in July and are designed to ease pressure on states and territories' hotel quarantine system.
Premiers and chief ministers request their caps at national cabinet and the limits are enforced by the commonwealth, which governs international borders.
Flights have been landing in Australia with fewer than 30 passengers, and as few as four economy passengers, as airlines prioritise more expensive tickets to remain profitable under the caps.
Barry Abrams, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, told Guardian Australia the proposed 2,000 increase to the caps "would be an extremely good start" to repatriating stranded Australians.
But Abrams, whose board represents airlines including Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Etihad, estimated that based on booking data of cancelled passengers, it would still take four months to return everyone to Australia.
He said that further incremental increases to the caps would be helpful, but "the next big step in allowing Australians to fly home will be when Melbourne airport comes back online".
He said Melbourne should be able to take a similar number of arrivals to Sydney once it has contained its second wave.