Questions Without Notice No 340
59 Parliament First Session
Asked: 26 May 2021

COVID-19 - Hotel quarantine program costs

MR QUILTY — To ask the Attorney-General (for the Treasurer):  

Substantive Question

My question is for the minister representing the Treasurer. The hotel quarantine program cost $1.6 million a day between 1 July and 31 March. It totalled $442 million over the first three quarters of 2021. However, the government is refusing to provide a breakdown of these costs. Treasurer, you may not be aware of this, but the money to fund hotel quarantine comes from the taxpayers. They have a right to know how their money is being spent, and you have a duty to report the expenditure transparently. Minister, why have these figures been hidden from the public? The principle should be applied across the board. Government expenditure must be clearly accounted for in detail wherever possible. Most information about government expenditure is high level and fails to break costs down into information that can be interrogated and scrutinised. The Liberal Democrats believe in honest government, and a big part of that is transparent and clear accounting of state expenditure.

Ms Symes: What is the question?

The PRESIDENT: Can you repeat the question, please?

Mr QUILTY: Minister, why have these figures been hidden from the public?

Supplementary Question

The government appointed Unified Security, a Labor-connected company, to manage large areas of the quarantine. However, it appears that the friendship has come to an end and the government is deliberately bankrupting this company, presumably to shut them up and sweep the details under the carpet. I am not sure there is enough room under that carpet for much more sweeping to take place. The budget does not just fail to demonstrate a breakdown of spending; it also fails to provide any estimate of what they expect hotel quarantine will cost going forward, including any mention of the $10 million they apparently owe to Unified. The government has claimed there is too much uncertainty to provide any estimate of the cost of hotel quarantine. However, we know that the vaccine program will not be completed anytime soon and that thousands of Australians are still stranded overseas and are relying on hotel quarantine to get back. Minister, why is this government concealing the expected cost of its hotel quarantine program?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Resources) (12:26): I fail to see the difference between the question that you asked then and your substantive. There was a little bit more commentary.

Mr Quilty: Past costs, future costs.

Answered: 26 May 2021

Verbal answer given in the House to the substantive question:

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Resources) (12:24): Thank you, Mr Quilty. It is always a pleasure. I will certainly take that on notice for the Treasurer. I note that you have asked for some particulars in relation to hotel quarantine expenditure. I would perhaps take the opportunity to encourage—I believe that your party is on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee—that it might be a good opportunity to ask some these questions there. PAEC is an opportunity to interrogate ministers on their budget outcomes, so it would give you greater scope to drill into the detail as opposed to asking the relevant minister who represents the Treasurer but is not responsible for the Treasurer’s budget. I will seek an answer from him, but perhaps PAEC might be the appropriate avenue for that type of question.

Verbal answer given in the House to the supplementary question:

Ms SYMES: I am certainly happy to add that for the Treasurer’s response to your substantive question, but you have raised some matters there that are probably not matters for the Treasurer, particularly in relation to security guards. I would point out that that matter is currently before the courts, so there might be some difficulty in providing too much information in advance of those court cases. But that would also be a matter for the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions. Then you also strayed into the vaccine rollout, which is a federal government responsibility. But having said that, let us bundle it all up for the Treasurer and see what can come back that is of use to you.


The President ordered a written response for both questions on 26 May 2021 (response due 28 May 2021).

Answered: 17 June 2021

As of 31 March 2021, $442.2 million had been incurred to operate the hotel quarantine program. An updated cost of hotel quarantine will be published in the 2020‐21 Annual Financial Report based on actual expenses incurred for the full 2020‐21 year. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of hotel quarantine requirements, including caps on international arrivals, potential changes in quarantine requirements, the investigation into alternative quarantine accommodation and increased vaccination rates internationally, any forecast provided would be highly uncertain. 

Jaclyn Symes MP

Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council