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No need to charter evacuation flights: PM

Scott Morrison has rejected calls to bring thousands of Australians stranded overseas home on air force planes.

The prime minister has also pushed back against suggestions the Commonwealth should re-establish federal quarantine facilities.

More than 27,000 Australians are waiting to return but with a weekly cap of 4000 incoming passengers, it could take well into next year.

Nr Morrison wants to increase the number of people who can come back into Australia by about 2000 a week.

His deputy Michael McCormack has written to the states and territories to seek their support, as they will need to take the extra passengers into hotel quarantine.

Several premiers have signalled their support for lifting the weekly cap, albeit with caveats.

NSW, Western Australia and Queensland are all expected to take an extra 500 people each week.

South Australia has agreed to take an extra 100 people, while Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory are in discussions about chipping in.

Labor has urged the prime minister to run Commonwealth quarantine facilities, which were established early in the coronavirus pandemic to house people returning from China and Japan.

But the government argues there are tens of thousands of empty hotel rooms that can be used for quarantine.

Labor also wants Mr Morrison to use government jets to bring people back.

“Our advice is there is no need for that,” the prime minister told the Seven Network on Thursday.

“There are plenty of commercial planes … it’s the caps that were stopping the planes.”

He wants to lift the incoming passenger cap at the end of next week.

The Commonwealth cap was introduced in July as Victoria suffered a second wave of coronavirus infections and NSW struggled to cope with the extra demand.

“We’ve got to start taking those caps off again,” Mr Morrison said.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce says he won’t be rethinking his decision to scrap all international flights, even to rescue Australians stuck overseas.

“The economics don’t work,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Joyce is pleading with the states to reopen domestic borders and the airline has taken out full-page newspaper ads to push its case.

“Europeans have been fighting themselves for thousands of years but they have somehow managed to agree to keep borders open,” he said.

Australia’s national panel of medical experts has proposed new definitions for coronavirus zones and hotspots in a bid to reopen state borders.

Mr Morrison was expected to discuss the proposals with premiers and chief ministers at a national cabinet meeting on Friday, but no longer expects to make progress, believing the definitions are too tough.

“The Commonwealth has its hotspot definition – I think that’s a sensible definition,” he said

“If other states want to have more extreme definitions then that’s ultimately up to them. That obviously has implications for how they run their show and what it means for people’s jobs and all of those sorts of things.”

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