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Bubble bonanza? PM mentions Japan, Singapore, Sth Korea

October 13, 2020 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Talks are underway to extend Australia’s “international travel bubbles” to other countries, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison using various forums yesterday to mention Japan and South Korea among likely contenders.

The Japan Times revealed last Wednesday that Japan’s Foreign Ministry and Australia were conducting negotiations “for easing border restrictions that have been in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic”.

Australia and Japan – key members of the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation free trade agreement – have been working since June to resume mutual travel, “mainly for businesspeople”, the paper reported.

Safe, beautiful, pleasant and well-liked by visitors, Japan would be an immensely popular destination for Aussies – if only Australians were allowed to travel internationally.

Travel from New Zealand to Australia is due to begin later this week, but there are still enormous hurdles, namely:

  • Tourism will be only one-way (NZ to Australia). With few exceptions, Australians are not allowed to visit New Zealand.
  • Travel from NZ is only to NSW, the ACT and NT.
  • Kiwi visitors won’t need to quarantine on entering Australia BUT they must do two weeks compulsory quarantine on returning home to New Zealand, at a cost of NZ$3000. So the tourist flow will be one-way and just a trickle.

On Sunday, Morrison mentioned the prospect of adding South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Pacific island nations to Australia’s coronavirus travel bubble plans. Other lands that might qualify, though Morrison did not mention them specifically, include Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and New Caledonia.

Currently, however, Covid-19 travel bans prevent Australians leaving this country unless they are granted an exemption permit.

Darwin sunset. Kiwis will soon be free to travel there. Pic by Peter Needham

Last week, after handing down the 2020 budget, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg dismayed the travel industry by stating: “International travel, including by tourists and international students, is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time, and a vaccine to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget.”

Yesterday, Morrison told Sunrise he had talked to Pacific leaders who said they were keen to resume quarantine-free travel once their governments were confident Australian travellers posed no Covid-19 risk to locals.

“We want to ensure that we get no Covid transmission into those Pacific Island communities,” Morrison said.

“We have to go cautiously on this – very, very cautiously.

“Covid-19 hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s still there. It is no less aggressive today than it was six months ago.”

Some parts of the world have no hope of any travel bubble with Australia, in either direction, at the moment. They include Britain and Europe, and also the US and India. Reason: tens of thousands of people are catching Covid-19 in those countries and thousands are dying.

Here are some clues to what might happen, and insights into government thinking, extracted from Morrison’s chats to a couple of news outlets yesterday:

INTERVIEW WITH ALLISON LANGDON, TODAY

Prime Minister: We’ve got the Kiwis coming and that’s great. And potentially we are having discussion with the Pacific islanders. But we have got to be careful. The risk there is that Covid can get into those communities. They have done a fantastic job protecting their communities. Places like Singapore, Japan, South Korea have all done a tremendous job also. We’ve had some initial discussions with those countries. But I wouldn’t want to raise expectations too high there.

Australians are still travelling overseas, I should stress, for work or compassionate reasons. I think there’s been about 60,000 Australians who have gone overseas since the start of the crisis under those arrangements. Those approvals are turned around pretty quick on the circumstances. But we have to be careful of that because we’re also trying to get as many Australians home as possible. And with Kiwis coming in, to particularly NSW, that is going to free up a lot more of the quarantine spaces in NSW so we can get more Australians home.

Langdon: I mean, you have got so many of them still stuck overseas who can’t wait to get back and want to get back for Christmas no doubt.

Prime Minister: True.

Langdon: But just going back to this travel bubble. Interesting that you say don’t get our hopes up, which sort of suggests it is not going to happen anytime soon. We know the US and Europe are off the cards until there is a vaccine. So potentially no travel there next year. But how will the travel bubble work exactly? What happens when they first arrive in Australia and how do you ensure they’re not exposed to Covid at an airport on their way in?

Prime Minister: We’re treating New Zealand just like people coming from South Australia into New South Wales or New South Wales into South Australia. I mean, New Zealand’s also had great success on the health side. And so there are no greater Covid risks of someone coming from Christchurch to Sydney than there is someone coming from Brisbane to Sydney. So those arrangements are put in place.

Langdon: Isn’t the issue when you are at an international airport…

Prime Minister: They’re separate lanes.

Langdon: Ok.

Prime Minister: There are green lanes and those processes are done through both on the New Zealand side and on the Australian side. Those who have come from New Zealand to Australia, they will still have to quarantine back in New Zealand. That’s a matter for the New Zealand government. They will make their own calls on that.

For the New South Wales and the Northern Territory and the ACT, this is going to be good for their tourism. Our tourism and hospitality industries have been battered and this will be good for those states. It will be great when it can happen here in Queensland as well. But we can’t do that at the moment because if Kiwis are coming to Queensland they have to quarantine and that takes up places for Queenslanders to be able to come home from overseas.

INTERVIEW WITH NEIL BREEN, 4BC

BREEN: Talking about Jacinda Ardern, how are discussions with regards to a border bubble between Australia and New Zealand? And particularly Queensland’s inclusion in it if we want to be in it.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the only thing… well, it starts with New South Wales. The only thing that’s preventing Queensland is your border arrangements here in Queensland. And the reason Kiwis can’t come to Queensland is because they’ll be taking up places in hotel quarantine, which we need to get Queenslanders home to Queensland from overseas. So New South Wales won’t have that restriction. Neither will the Northern Territory, the ACT, I suspect South Australia will follow fairly soon. And so that’s the only thing standing in the way of it. It’s a decision for the Queensland Premier.

BREEN: It is disappointing that we seem to be slow on the uptake with all of these things. We seem to be in a defensive frame of mind, our government in Queensland, about New South Wales and they’ve got to get it under control and we’re slow with New Zealand. 480,000 Kiwis a year come here. They spend $600 million. Obviously, you’ve spoken about it a lot, but you’d like to see them to be more proactive and on the front foot – rather than trying to be 20 not out at lunch.

 Written by Peter Needham

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