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Simon Birmingham leaves door open to slashing international arrivals, with Victoria and Qld to demand measure at national cabinet

At least two premiers will take a big demand to crisis talks with the PM tomorrow, and it could have a big impact on stranded Aussies.

Queensland and Victoria will demand drastic cuts to international arrivals at what is expected to be a tense meeting of national cabinet on Friday.

The Commonwealth has not ruled out the measure, with more than 12 million Australians placed into lockdown in a bid to contain the rapidly spreading Delta variant of Covid-19.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has argued the threat of lockdowns will remain as long as international arrivals are funnelled through hotel quarantine, the source of various leaks since the pandemic began. He will take that argument to national cabinet on Friday morning.

The demand to cut back on international arrivals, backed by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, sets up a tense meeting of national cabinet on Friday morning after the federal government accused Queensland of “extremist” rhetoric on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews poured cold water on cutting arrivals on Wednesday, saying the “first response should not be to close down our borders”.

But her colleague, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, left the door open to the idea, noting the Commonwealth had already drastically reduced international movement throughout the pandemic.

“We have also shown a willingness to tighten it even further, such as during the India outbreak, if the risk factor is greater. We will always continue to look at that evidence, and work with the state and territories,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“There is no perfect model or approach.”

Mr Andrews, the first premier to go public with the idea earlier this week, had earlier insisted on a cut of 75 to 80 per cent while the vaccination was rolled out.

He said Australia lacked a “full toolbox” to combat an outbreak, with not enough Australians vaccinated to handle the highly transmissible variant.

“We know where it’s coming; it’s leaking out of hotel quarantine, because hotels are not built as infection control places. They’re built to look after tourists,” he said.

Just under 35,000 Australians were stranded overseas as of late April, and Mr Andrews conceded it would be “desperately sad” for those told they could not return.

“But if you’re coming home for those compassionate reasons, it makes it much more likely that there will be an outbreak, and we’ll have to lock everybody down, then you’ve got to make that tough call,” he said.

No more than 1000 arrivals per week were permitted to land in Melbourne, and no more than 1300 in Brisbane. That was dwarfed by NSW’s intake of 530 per day, or 3010 per week.

The federal government has lauded NSW for doing the “heavy lifting” on hotel quarantine, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday international arrival caps were a matter for the Commonwealth.

But Ms Palaszczuk has demanded a 50 per cent reduction in international arrivals, claiming her state’s systems had been overwhelmed.

“We are down to the final number of beds. We are now searching for additional hotels for our hotel quarantine,” she said on Thursday.

“Our hotels were not built to contain it and obviously you see that our hospitals are not built to contain it either.”

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