The Northern Territory Chief Minister has rejected suggestions he is holding up a deal to get stranded Australians home using the NT’s Howard Springs facility.

Michael Gunner said he would have a “final conversation” about the issue with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Sydney on Friday, separate to National Cabinet discussions that day.

“Both of us want to see more Australians home by Christmas and we’ll be talking about how we can scale up Howard Springs to do that,” Mr Gunner said.
“This will be that final conversation between us and the Prime Minister about what we can do together about Howard Springs being a centre for national resilience.”

Key points:

  • The NT Chief Minister will discuss plans for stranded Australians when he is in Sydney on Friday
  • Michael Gunner says he will have “final” talks with the PM about Howard Springs
  • Plans to fly 70 international students to Darwin have been delayed by a month

Mr Gunner said he would fly to Sydney on Thursday.

He said his conversation with Mr Morrison would not just be about a “dollar figure” from the Federal Government, but about how to use extra staff to maintain safe “bubbles” between international and domestic visitors at Howard Springs.

“There’s a resourcing issue in terms of the staff that you have to have available and the hours that they work,” Mr Gunner said.

Earlier on Wednesday, NT Country Liberals senator Sam McMahon told the Mix 104.9 radio station Mr Morrison should “take a big stick and beat Mr Gunner over the head with it” because he had been slow to act.

She later defended her language and said it was a “metaphorical stick”.

Ms McMahon said Mr Gunner was the only impediment to getting stranded Australians to Darwin, and Vanuatu mango workers should be moved into on-farm quarantine to make way for them.

“He needs to give permission for international arrivals into Darwin and for those Aussies to use the Howard Springs facility,” Ms McMahon said.

“It’s the Chief Minister’s domain. Obviously he takes advice from the Chief Health Officer.”

But Mr Gunner said he had “no idea” what Ms McMahon was talking about and talks with Mr Morrison this week had been positive.

Ms McMahon also suggested the Chief Minister was preventing former pilot Stefan Wood from chartering his own flight to transport Australians to Darwin from Singapore.

But Mr Gunner said any decisions about international borders were a matter for Border Force and the Federal Government.

“That is not a decision for the Territory Government to make,” Mr Gunner said.

“We do not in the Northern Territory have the ability or experience or access to the right information to make those decisions about other countries.”

International student flight delayed

Charles Darwin University confirmed on Wednesday its plans to fly 70 international students to Darwin had been pushed back to late November.

The initial plan was to have the students arrive at the end of this month.

Outgoing vice-chancellor Simon Maddocks said the October deadline became too difficult to meet.

“It’s simply making sure that the required number of beds we need secured for students for a two-week quarantine period can be fitted into that profile,” Professor Maddocks said.

Professor Maddocks also said it would be unsurprising if some international students were reluctant to return to Australia.

“I think given Australia has not been able to actively engage with students returning to Australia has meant all universities are struggling to understand when they might get that opportunity,” he said.

“There is international competition now. Canada and the United Kingdom are both working actively through their governments to charter student returns into those countries.

“The sooner we can get this opportunity committed and running appropriately, the better for all of us.”

Professor Maddocks confirmed students would pay for their flights and the university would pay for their quarantine “at rates that support those students committing to the Territory”.

The NT Government said it would not subsidise quarantine costs for the international students.