The defence minister, Peter Dutton, has slapped down the Western Australian premier Mark McGowan after he called on the commonwealth to “step up” and take responsibility for quarantining returned travellers.
Dutton, who is in home quarantine in Queensland after visiting Perth last week, said the WA government had made a “mistake” by using the Mercure hotel where the latest Covid-19 leak originated. He said the facility had previously been identified as not being suitable for returned travellers.
Perth and the Peel region entered a snap three-day lockdown from Saturday after the first new case of community transmission WA in 12 months. McGowan criticised the commonwealth for not doing enough to help the states manage returned travellers.
But Dutton accused McGowan of being unnecessarily defensive. He said the state was responsible for quarantining and the federal government was not equipped to manage the program.
“Nobody is being critical of him for that. He doesn’t need to be defensive. He doesn’t want to be the next Dan Andrews where they had significant problems,” Dutton told ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.
“They have got other hotels that have been perfectly fit for purpose. WA had already identified the Mercure was not fit for purpose and so they are moving away from that. I am not critical of that. The lesson has been learned and they can move on from that.”
Dutton rejected suggestions the federal government should use federal facilities to house returned travellers and said states had agreed to take responsibility for the program and were best placed to do so.
“The facts are that the premiers agreed last year on medical advice to conduct the hotel quarantining in the way they are doing,” the defence minister said.
“I’d love to tell you that airbases or the Christmas Island facility is fit for purpose but it is not. The accommodation is quite austere at our airbases. There is not the segregation of facilities such as the mess and where people need to come together in blocks for … showers or toilets or whatever it might be.”
The Australian Medical Association has said ongoing leaks from hotel quarantine are a “frustration” and the states are not doing enough to prevent leaks.
Concern about “aerosol spread” of the virus in hotels has been an ongoing issue and after an earlier WA breach an engineering report identified the Mercure Perth as unsuitable for the purpose of hotel quarantine.
It was a sign of the mining industry’s influence in Perth that the city’s latest three-day lockdown was revealed by the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy before the premier announced the move publicly.
McGowan was still in crisis meetings on Friday when the chamber told its members and the news was soon on Twitter – which meant panic buying was underway by the time the premier stepped up to the podium.