Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has urged states to take more Australians returning from overseas through expanded hotel quarantine programs.
The federal transport minister wants the national weekly cap to rise from 4000 to 6000 in a bid to get more of the 26,000 people stranded abroad home.
Under Mr McCormack’s plan, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia would lift state caps by 500 people a week.
South Australia has agreed to take an extra 100 people, while Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory are in discussions about chipping in.
Mr McCormack has written to premiers and chief ministers asking for their support ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
“I want to make sure that more Australians can return home,” he told reporters in Wagga Wagga on Wednesday.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian made her support conditional on WA and Queensland each agreeing to take 500 more people a week.
WA Premier Mark McGowan criticised the deputy prime minister for going public with the proposal before national cabinet had considered it.
But he appears to be open to a higher cap, raising the prospect of Rottnest Island being again used to quarantine people.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is willing to take more people in hotel quarantine provided capacity is available.
She urged the federal government to use its own aircraft to fly people home, echoing a federal Labor proposal to use air force jets.
“I don’t want families to be separated by very, very long distances overseas when they are isolated and when a lot of countries are still in lockdown,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.
Mr McGowan believes Commonwealth defence bases could ease the pressure on Perth’s hotels but has cooled on calls for Christmas Island detention centre to be used.
Christmas Island is being used to detain convicted criminals.
The federal government argues defence bases are not suitable because of shared bathrooms and the risk of outbreaks.
The ACT is open to taking 150 a fortnight on a single chartered flight provided federal police and the defence force are enlisted to help.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Mr McCormack lacked influence.
“How absurd is it that the deputy prime minister holds a press conference today and says he’s writing a letter about the 25,000 Australians who are stranded overseas?” Mr Albanese told reporters.
“This isn’t the responsibility of the states, this is the responsibility of the national government.”
He wants the federal government to run its own quarantine programs alongside states.
Mr Albanese said the government should also look at chartering Qantas planes and using other air force aircraft to bring people home.
Victoria recorded 42 new cases on Wednesday and eight deaths taking the national toll to 824.
The 14-day average fell below 50, the mark needed to allow the next stage of restrictions in Melbourne to be eased on September 28.
NSW recorded 10 new cases, with four linked to known outbreaks and the rest in hotel quarantine.