A Commonwealth-funded $ 200 million quarantine facility in Perth’s north looms as an expensive white elephant with Premier Mark McGowan admitting he is unsure what to do with the compound once construction is complete in the middle of the year.
Announced last August – well over a year into the COVID pandemic – the Bullsbrook “Center for National Resilience” was intended to largely replace a network of CBD hotels used to quarantine returning interstate and international travelers.
The Commonwealth – which belatedly funded the entire construction cost of the facility after months of dragging its heels over the idea – originally hoped to hand it over to the McGowan Government, which agreed to cover operating costs, in early 2022.
Building delays mean it is unlikely to be complete until late June or early July.
With quarantine no longer a requirement for interstate or international travel, Mr McGowan told Budget estimates he had little idea how the building would be used.
“What to do with it, that is the $ 64 million question,” he said.
“Maybe there is some use we can put it to outside of a pandemic or a disaster (but) we have not quite landed on what that is yet.
“We’re seeking feedback from people as to what it can be used for.”
“It’s not in the heart of the city. So you know, in terms of backpackers or something, it can not really be used for that.
“It’s out in Bullsbrook near RAAF Base Pearce so we’re trying to think what else can be done with it.”
While stressing the McGowan Government had worked cooperatively with the Commonwealth Government on the project, the Premier said the decision to build the facility so late into the pandemic was not his own.
“I have not throughout this thing tried to score political points on it,” he said.
“Obviously we did not know how long the pandemic would be in existence so the Commonwealth decided to build it.
“If the pandemic went on for five years everyone would be so grateful. Turns out that the requirement to quarantine has now sort of expired. ”
Mr McGowan said the State Government would fit out the facility as agreed and employ “minimum staff for a limited period of time” to make sure it could be operated if required in future.
“As you know every Christmas we have disasters, we have fires and cyclones. Perhaps there is a use there at some points during the year, ”he said.
“But what I do not want to do is have a long term ongoing drain on the Budget for something that does not have anyone in it.”
The previous Morrison Government funded the construction of purpose-built “Centers for National Resilience” in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
They were intended to be used as quarantine facilities initially and then re-purposed for other future health crises or to provide accommodation in the event of natural disasters.
Mr McGowan floated potentially using the compound as a Commonwealth detention facility.
WA COVID quarantine center: Jandakot site scrapped for Bullsbrook
“I know all the time they’re deporting people with criminal records or people who overstayed visas or what have you, they might want to use it for those purposes,” he said.
“And certainly it would be a much more affordable option than what they do on Christmas Island.”
The Morrison Government had previously ruled out using the Bullsbrook facility as a detention center.