23 Mar 2021

Trans-Tasman travel bubble: More time needed to sort out complexities, Ardern says

5:49 am on 23 March 2021

More time is needed to nail down the final details of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, so when government announces a date, people have certainty.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says officials want to ensure there's a plan to deal with scenarios like a fresh outbreak before opening up to other countries. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

New Zealanders will have to wait more than a fortnight to find out when a safe travel, or green zone, will be opened with Australia; the government will announce the start date on 6 April, once Cabinet's satisfied certain conditions have been met.

Explaining the delay, Adern said after Australia's change of position in February, New Zealand had to "deal with different circumstances in different states, which does add complexity, but it is not insurmountable".

"No other country in the world" had been working to an elimination strategy while trying to open up travel with another country, she said.

"So we are having to create a brand new rulebook, now we've done that before, and we're doing it again here, but it does come with complexity, particularly for New Zealand, more so than for Australia."

But the Opposition has run out of patience, saying the "time for excuses and delays is over".

It was "unbelievable" the details of the bubble had not yet been figured out, National Party leader Judith Collins said, and Australia backing out in February was no excuse for the continued delays.

"Our tourism sector has been pleading for help for a year now. Kiwis have been separated from their families for far too long, the government has had months to work out the complexities of a trans-Tasman bubble."

More than 42,000 people have already signed National Party's petition calling for a safe trans-Tasman travel bubble to open, she said.

"The last thing our struggling economy needs now is more announcements about future announcements, the prime minister should have given us the certainty of a start-date today."

National Party leader Judith Collins

National Party leader Judith Collins said Australia's change of mind in February about the travel bubble was no excuse for continued delays. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

New Zealand ran the risk of being "left behind", she said, with Australia already turning its attention to forming a travel bubble with Singapore.

Ardern defended the timeframe, saying ministers want to make sure "we have a plan in place", once the bubble opens, to deal with scenarios like a fresh outbreak.

In the past year, officials from Australia and New Zealand had met 12 times "to work through a New Zealand and Australia arrangement".

"That would have [meant] that we'd be working together on decision makings around when we would shut down the borders or when we might have to cease travel if we had outbreaks," Ardern told reporters.

"Since that time, obviously states have opened up, the majority have not - they still remain closed. Our view is rather than trying to work through a solution that sees all of Australia with New Zealand that we can work through an arrangement that sees us operating with some states but not others."

There are a raft of conditions before a bubble would be opened, Ardern said, including a robust framework for when cases arise in Australia, ensuring airports and airlines were ready, the appropriate regulatory mechanisms were in place, and the Director-General of Health provide an up-to-date health assessment.

Other aspects - such as how New Zealand would handle a third country entering into a bubble with Australia - also had to be considered.

The government would also work on contact tracing requirements, QR codes, arrangements of testing that might or might not be required, between now and 6 April, she said.

Tourism industry 'disappointed' over wait on date

The industry said it was "desperately keen" to be told a date but remained hopeful the bubble could be operating before the end of April.

"Thousands of keen travellers and the tourism businesses ready to welcome them will be disappointed to learn they must wait another two weeks for guidance on when quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel might begin," said Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts.

The announcement "leaves them all in limbo until after Easter."

The success of both countries in dealing with Covid-19 "gives us this opportunity to reconnect our two nations", Roberts said.

"However, until they have a firm date, tourism operators cannot take bookings with confidence or scale up in terms of staff and services. It also delays marketing campaigns to the Aussies."

The industry group and its members "accept that our borders must be opened safely" and acknowledge complex processes are involved, he said.

"But discussions on what would need to be in place to allow the Tasman to re-open started almost immediately after our borders were closed a year ago.

"The intention was to get everything ready to go when the time was right; the health experts say trans-Tasman travel can now be done safely, so any delay is frustrating."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs