A new purpose-built quarantine facility will be constructed in Victoria to house high-risk arrivals, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.
The federal government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Victorian government, agreeing to fund A$200 million (NZ$214m) for construction of the facility, which will be located in Mickleham or Avalon.
Speaking after meeting state and territory leaders at national cabinet today, Morrison said the Commonwealth would fund the construction of the facility, and Victoria would cover its operating costs.
"That is a very welcome process that we have been through with the Victorian government. [It is] a very good proposal, one that I was very pleased with when I first saw it. I want to thank our officials, and the Victorian officials, for working so quickly through to the agreement we've reached today," he said.
Announcing the agreement today, Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino said the discussions had been "very positive all the way through" and described the project as a "priority for both governments".
"I'm very pleased that we have reached this agreement today and I think most Victorians [and] Australians will be very pleased that we have reached this outcome," he said.
Merlino said although the hotel quarantine system had proved effective, 21 breaches showed it was "not a zero-risk environment" and "never will be".
"Our strong argument has been we must have a Howard Springs-like alternative, a purpose-built quarantine facility for our highest-risk individuals. That's exactly what we will deliver," he said.
Merlino was keen for the facility to be built and operational "as soon as possible" and would work with the Commonwealth to expedite construction.
He stressed Mickleham was his preference but said Avalon would "work equally well".
The new location will operate in addition to the commonwealth-run Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, which the federal government confirmed would be expanded in the May budget.
Labor frontbencher Richard Marles said the Victorian outbreak would have been avoided had the federal government constructed additional facilities earlier.
"Every person who does their quarantine in a fit-for-purpose facility makes our country safer," he said.
National Covid-19 Co-ordination Commission Advisory Board commissioner Jane Halton called for additional purpose-built facilities in her October review.
Halton on Wednesday welcomed the Howard Springs expansion but said she was "perplexed" the decision had taken so long.
"Some of the breaches we have seen recently are a direct reflection of an absence of best practice in some of these systems," she told ABC Radio.
Epidemiologist Nancy Baxter told Today the facility would allow the highest-risk travellers to be quarantined in a purpose-built facility, mitigating the threat of transmission in hotels.
"They mainly seem to be coming from people that go into hotel quarantine. They don't have the virus, and they're catching it from someone else in hotel quarantine … They don't become positive until they're actually at home," she said.
"This is for people perhaps from countries with new variants or where the epidemic is really widespread."