Quarantine and Immigration

By March 3, 2021Other

One of my correspondents, who has been a research biologist and a senior Treasury official in Queensland, sent me a set of notes on the subject of better ways of dealing with the quarantine issue. I was so struck with them I asked could I publish an edited version, to which he agreed. I have only published a few such pieces since the website started in 2012. My guest is Dr Paul McFadyen.


A new way forward

Quarantine in commercial hotels in major cities has demonstrably failed, with four outbreaks in four states. Covid 19 restrictions have also severely restricted Australia’s immigration program and the ability of Australians and Australian residents to return to Australia.  Immigration provides 60 per cent of our annual population increase and is thus a significant contributor to Australia’s economic and employment growth. Plainly, we need to find a safe, secure and economical way to restart the immigration program (160,000 immigrants per annum) during the Covid 19 pandemic and, in addition, to allow increased repatriation of Australians and Australian residents.

Here is a suggestion. Let’s start with ‘where’. We have a few unoccupied air force bases (bare bases) with long runways, suitable for fighter jets and commercial airliners in remote areas. The flight infrastructure is already there. Next to them we could build villages based on demountables, which come in all sizes, so they would be suitable for individuals as well as families. They come complete with kitchen and living room. Prices vary between $6,000 and $30,000.  Providing accommodation for 10,000 travellers per month at these bases means that 120,000 people a year could enter Australia after being cleared of the virus.  If quarantine was set at 14 days quarantine the number processed would double to 240,000.   If extra precaution beyond 14 days was considered essential, 21 days quarantine, for example, then 180,000 could be processed. After the quarantine period and cleared of Covid 19 the travellers could take a commercial flight from the RAAF bare base to their destination in Australia. As these quarantine facilities are adjacent to an air strip any travellers who needed hospital-level care could quickly be airlifted by the flying doctor service to the nearest hospital. They would be in the same situation as others in remote Australia.

How would it work? Accommodation could be free, but travellers would have to pay for their food and essentials. So operating costs for governments would be minimal. One such village could house 10,000 people (at two per twin bedroom demountable) at an estimated capital expenditure of $100M.  As capital expenditure is a sunk cost and operating expenditure to government is minimal with this proposed arrangement there would be no cost disadvantage to government by extending the quarantine period from two to three weeks if extra safety were required.  The total estimated capital expenditure of around $100M (depending on any additional requirements required) is a tiny investment to restart immigration to boost aggregate demand and economic and employment growth.

Compared to paying for travellers to stay in four-star hotels with guards in cities, where they can infect other people and need to be guarded, putting them in quarantine in remote areas adjacent to airfields, such as near isolated RAAF bare bases up north, means no one will escape, so guard costs would be tiny. There is no point in escaping, for there is nowhere to go in such isolated areas up north, only kangaroos and crocodiles.  The operating expenditure to government will be far lower than using four-star hotels in cities.

Other remote airfields would suitable, such as the private-sector proposal by the Wagner family to establish quarantine facilities adjacent to their privately-owned Wellcamp airport near Toowoomba in Queensland, which is capable of handling big jets like the Boeing 747. Both Toowoomba and Brisbane hospitals are within the local care helicopter flight range.

The demountables could form a village, at some distance from the air strip.   A quarantine village would need to be spread out and organised in separated mini villages of say 200-500 so that any infections found can be ring-fenced. Town planners with medical experts could easily provide a suitable standard design.  RAAF Learmonth WA and RAAF Scherger, near Weipa Qld, are virtually uninhabited so land around there is virtually worthless, meaning that the quarantine village could spread out. Demountables are locally made by a variety of Australian manufacturers to house miners in isolated areas, are readily available from these manufacturing companies, and would stimulate local manufacturing and employment.

After the pandemic is over, the demountables could be transferred to the Australian Defence Force to use as accommodation for military exercises up north. A demountable village for 10,000 would easily accommodate any of the Army’s three combat brigades.  The capital expenditure investment in these demountables would be an ongoing benefit for the ADF and perhaps could be funded out of the northern Australian development funds or any other special Covid 19 funds.

Finally, an overview.  Restarting the immigration program would boost aggregate demand, and aggregate demand underlies employment growth, a major component in Commonwealth Treasury’s economic forecasts.  As 60 per cent of Australia’s population growth comes from  immigration any prolonged cessation of immigration could be expected to have increasingly adverse consequences for economic and employment growth.  Immigrants, particularly skilled immigrants, make up a group whose members produce high levels of economic demand. They need to buy housing and furniture when they arrive, and those needs contribute to economic growth and employment.

The post-war immigration program established by the WWII generation, was, and is, primarily a long-term defence policy to increase Australia’s defence capacity.  Since 60 per cent of our population increase is due to immigration any prolonged cessation of immigration impacts negatively on the continued improvement in Australia’s defence capacity so a mechanism to restart the immigration program as soon as possible is necessary.


I think this is an intriguing set of suggestions, set out in an accessible way. I would be most interested in comments. Please keep your comments relevant to the central theme of the essay. This is not about climate change, energy policy or the other delights of some readers, including me. And please keep your comments civil!




Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • Neville says:

    Don I don’t think any of this is new and this has been proposed at Sky News a number of times by various presenters over the last 6 months at least.
    If we have to have ongoing immigration it’s probably a very sensible idea post CV-19. And the cost should be minimal and we certainly wouldn’t have Andrew’s hotels breakouts to be concerned about should another pandemic come our way.

  • Peter Ridd says:

    I think this is a very sensible idea. My only problem is that I do not think we should have such a high immigration intake as mentioned here (160K per year). In the last couple of decades Australia has been running historically high immigration intakes. I do not accept that there is a net economic benefit for such a high intake. Best to drop, to perhaps 50K per year. This would be even easier to house in the military bases.

    Peter RIdd

    • Neville says:

      I agree with you Peter but you’ll find that all parties will tell us we must have high immigration to fuel economic growth and a more prosperous Australia etc.
      I’m sure it’s mostly BS but so far THEY have the megaphone and it’s a bit like trying to argue about their so called climate crisis.

      • Tony Thomas says:

        There are numerous studies of the cost/benefits of immigration. In the 1990s I wrote a cover story for BRW on the topic. In essence, there was no or insignificant gdp benefit per capita. I think that result has been pretty standard for subsequent studies. Those perturbed by the ever-diminishing amenity of our capital cities through crowding, can blame immigration.

  • Karabar says:

    It might have been a decent idea a year ago, but in all likelihood this will run its course like every previous bad flu season, and by the time these “demountables” are set up the fake plandemic will be history.
    As for the plea for more immigration; let’s have a referendum on that nonsense.

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    This idea is based on the assumption that immigration is a public good, and should be restored to former levels as soon as practicable. There is little to no justification for this. Yes, GDP increases, but per capita, there is little to no change, and most residents of capital cities would agree that their amenity has significantly declined. More significantly, the population increasingly does not like it. Cloaking it as a response to Covid is just a three card trick.

  • Doug Hurst says:

    Despite all the valid reasons – overcrowded cities, rising housing costs etc – immigration is a necessary evil. Our region is growing in both wealth and population and to maintain parity in key areas like trade and security – and so keep what we have – we too have to get bigger and stronger. It was populate or perish after WW11 and though I wish it was not still true today, it is, and if the pandemic persists, this is a good way to do it.

    That said, I agree with peter Ridd that the figures proposed are higher than we need. But the dream we can keep our continent to ourselves without special effort to do so is just that and some migration is a necessity, whether we like it or not.

  • Boambee John says:

    I agree that the proposed immigration level is too high, for a couple of reasons.

    First, mostsnew arrivals settle in the mainland capital cities, predominantly Sydney and Melbourne. This has a serious adverse effect on local amenity and infrastructure.

    Second, the emphasis on a multicultural intake has caused an unacceptable level of community division. Immigrants can retain their own culture, but must also “fit in” with their fellow citizens, and there should be NO taxpayer support for any culture other than Australian. That goes for the Burns Club as much as for the local Sikh Temple or Muslim mosque.

    A multi-ethnic Australia is not a problem, but it needs a common culture lest we become a house divided against itself.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Thanks Don but maybe we don’t need any immigrants at all.

    National accounts figures on Wednesday showed the economy expanded by 3.1 per cent in the December quarter. Last year’s September quarter growth figure was also revised higher, to 3.4 per cent from 3.3 per cent.

    The Treasurer said on Wednesday that Australia’s economic recovery was outpacing many similar countries and it was the first time in 60 years there had been two consecutive quarters of growth over 3 per cent.

    Our economy outperformed all other advanced economies in 2020. While the United Kingdom contracted by 9.9%, Italy, 8.9%, France, 8.2%, Canada, 5%, Japan, 4.8%, the United States, 3.3%, Australia was only down by 2.5%.

  • Aert Driessen says:

    Makes eminent sense Don but will probably not be supported by the Public Service because they didn’t think of it first. As for our current crop of politicians, I despair. I agree with everyone who advocated for a reduced intake level, and with BJ’s second thought about not financially supporting any other culture other than our own.

    • Boambee John says:


      Thanks for the suport.

      The ban on supporting foreign cultures should start with the abolition of SBS. To the extent that it might ever have been necessary, that need has long been overtaken by the ready availability of satellite systems. Abolish it, and use the savings to start repaying the debts incurred fighting the Kung Flu.

  • dlb says:

    I too agree with Peter Ridd in reverting to a modest immigrant intake of 50k a year. Lets first aim for full & secure employment before we worry about taking in extra people.

    Our main political parties seem to favour high levels of immigration. One could be cynical and say the Right like immigration as it drives down wages while the Left like it for kumbaya reasons.

    As far as having demountable towns near air strips, probably a good idea but possibly a bit late for Covid, as the vaccines should limit community transmissions from breeches in hotel quarantine.

  • Vern Hughes says:

    Totally disagree. This attempted link between high population and defence capacity has been disproved by all our leading defence analysts over the past 40 years. The leading contributor in this debate, Hugh White, has laid these furphies to bed once and for all in his most recent book ‘How to Defend Australia’ (2019), in which he argues that our self-defence needs will be primarily met in the future through a maritime-based strategy, back up by air power, with very little required of a land-based army. This means that the population of the continent is largely irrelevant to our capacity to defend ourselves. A maritime-based strategy seeks to prevent any potential assailant from reaching our shores by sea – whether we have 25m or 125m people on our land is irrelevant.

    More generally, the argument that high immigration is our only economic strategy now, since we have stopped manufacturing anything, is a white flag strategy. It accepts that we are destined to become a Third World country, much like Argentina. This argument has been pushed mercilessly for decades by Australia’s lazy non-entrepreneurial corporate sector, for whom making and selling products to the world is too hard. High immigration is a guarantee of 2-3% growth in domestic demand every year without having to get out of bed. This corporate self-interest has dovetailed with the support for high immigration on the Left, largely for virtue-signalling purposes, since the ‘white’ profile of Australia, so morally tainted as a racial category, is steadily being diluted through high numbers of permanent and temporary residents. This unholy alliance has protected high immigration from political challenge for years, even though public opposition to high immigration sits around the 65-70% mark.

    Both arguments, on defence and economics, are the counsel of despair. Both reinforce the notion that we are a dumb, white trash nation that deserves our continuing economic and cultural decline.

    • Vern Hughes says:

      The comments here on high immigration reflect the stable, multi-partisan opposition to high immigration that is now well-established in society, but completely unrepresented by the political class and bureaucracy. On no other issue is the disconnect between public opinion and elite opinion so starc and so transparent.

      • Doug Hurst says:

        I was referring to overall security, not just defence from attack. This also includes trade, tourism, anti-terrorism, anti-smuggling, illegal immigration etc, all of which require a regional approach and influence from Australia, including money. Done well, such regional security will also help deter armed attack from all but the strongest forces.

        It’s nothing new – Teddy Roosevelt proposed a foreign policy of ‘speaking softly and carrying a big stick’ (sometimes quoted as walking softly); a good idea then and still relevant. Soft diplomacy has limits and is more effective if backed by the mailed fist in the velvet glove.

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    “The comments here on high immigration reflect the stable, multi-partisan opposition to high immigration that is now well-established in society”

    Voices crying in the wilderness. Sooner or later, the shoe will drop. What we don’t know is whether it will be too late.

  • Hasbeen says:

    “Restarting the immigration program would boost aggregate demand, and aggregate demand underlies employment growth, a major component in Commonwealth Treasury’s economic forecasts”. What garbage. Most of the increased demand is using money paid in support of migrents from the taxpayer. Talk about a dog chasing it’s tail.

    The one good thing to come out of the corona virus, is the stop of migration.

    Any number of countries can operate successfully with stable populations, perhaps it is time to get rid of most high level bureaucrats, who preach this nonsense, & hire some business men with experience of generating business, rather than simply importing it.

    I am quite sure that a majority of real Ozzies would be happy to take a reduction in income, if it meant we stopped destroying what was once a great country by filling it up with people with no idea of what used to make an Australian.

  • Peter S says:

    This is not a new idea. But it comes with some issues.

    Accommodation for up to 10,000 people implies a substantial settlement. The most expensive component of this will be supply of utilities, namely sewage and sewage treatment, water supply and energy (gas or electricity). Such a large group would require ready access to pharmaceuticals, medical services and in the case of COVID access to rapid sampling and testing services. In short, even if fewer guards are required other personnel to supply and maintain these essential services will be needed. To find people willing to live in these settlements and supply the necessary services may be difficult. The more remote the settlements are the more expensive will be the operational costs.

    Construction of quarantine stations near airports such as Avalon and Wellcamp is probably more feasible, but the supervision will certainly need to be present, given how close these airports are to “civilisation”.

    Hotel quarantine can be made to work. All states have had some cases where the virus has escaped from hotel quarantine, but with the exception of Victoria the rest have been able to manage this.

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    Hi Don,

    Interesting approach, but it is too late for consideration. Antibody and antigen tests for Covid-19 are proliferating, and vaccines are now making their way through populations. The problem for testing with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests is the time delay in obtaining results. Rapid and accurate testing for antigens is the more useful approach for screening, as such tests identify the presence of infection. A highly sensitive test can indicate infection within one or two days, at both onset and in the closing stage of infection. There is a world of difference in detection timing between a PCR-based antibody test and a highly sensitive rapid (fifteen minute) antigen test, an ocean of difference between a rapid test for antibodies and that antigen test.

    There is such a rapid test developed in Australia that is undergoing clinical trials now, using nasopharyngeal and saliva swabs, the latter if successful particularly attractive. A test of this kind whose results can be determined within fifteen minutes, can be used for screening of large numbers of people such as in transit (primarily airports), for mass gatherings (the kind of rave concert that you and I just love attending, Don), and in local clinical settings. As a result of its use, for example airplanes would carry passengers each of whom is almost certainly not infected. Employing a rapid test immediately opens up the movement of people in their normal activities, the economies, and strengthens the health of societies. There should be little need for quarantine.

  • Alessandro says:

    There is nothing like the topic of immigration to get the pens scribing. From most of the comments herein it appears the majority want to rein-in the immigration numbers, albeit some suggest immigration is vital to maintain strength in a rapidly changing strategic environment. In regard to strength, it is after-all, illusory. If one of the major powers wanted to invade Australia it would be over in days, we just don’t have the resources nor the time to mobilise our snowflake generation to war.

    In the great Australian tradition of muddling along, our government(s) will continue to pursue the status-quo because its so easy to muddle along and leave it to the next generation of muddlers. We need some big target, inspirational leadership like JFK to forge a population strategy that incentivises the current generation to procreate in significant numbers. Peter Costello had the right idea of one for mum, one for dad and one for the country. It will never happen while we have a mob of third rate politicians focussed on third rate issues.

    • Boambee John says:


      Indeed, excellent points about the poor quality of Australia’s political and administrative classes (I say that having spent my working life as a member of the administrative class, albeit now long retired).

    • dlb says:

      Costello did not have the right idea.

      We are now into the second generation of welfare dependent dole bl recipients from that crazy baby bonus. To think such a loopy idea came from the so called conservative party. Just shows how bankrupt politicians are of all stripes, when it comes to vote buying.

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