18 Jun 2020

Reopening of Australian borders for tourist travel 'quite some distance off'

7:12 am on 18 June 2020

Australia's Tourism Minister is warning the nation's border is likely to stay closed until next year.

Jetstar, Tiger and Virgin planes sit idle on the tarmac at Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport on 12 April 2020.

Planes on the tarmac at Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport on 12 April 2020. Photo: AFP

Simon Birmingham said the decision to shut the border was one of the main reasons for Australia's success in suppressing Covid-19 and it would not be lifted for general travel any time soon.

"I do sadly think that in terms of open tourist-related travel in or out of Australia, that remains quite some distance off," Senator Birmingham told the National Press Club.

"Just because of the practicalities of the volumes that are involved and the need for us to first and foremost keep putting health first."

Asked whether that meant the border would not open until next year, he said, "I think that is more likely the case".

What about talk about a trans-Tasman bubble?

The Australian federal government is working on a couple of exceptions to the country's border closure, including allowing travel between Australia and New Zealand.

Talks between the two nations are underway and an expert panel has submitted a report to both governments on how it might work. There is still no timeframe on when it might happen.

Some international students will be let back into Australia to study from next month as part of "pre-approved" pilot programs and Senator Birmingham has suggested some business travel may also be opened up.

"I think those who might not only be international students, but be here for longer-term work purposes or longer-term business and investment purposes, logically you can extend those sort of same safeguards to them and their state," he said.

"I hope that we can look eventually at some of those countries who have similar successes in suppressing the spread of Covid to Australia and New Zealand, and in working through that with those countries, find safe pathways to deal with essential business travel that helps to contribute to jobs across our economies."

'Patriotic duty'

Australians spent more than $65 billion on overseas holidays last year and the government wants some of that money spent domestically instead.

Senator Birmingham said people who can afford it should feel "an almost patriotic duty" to support local businesses by taking a holiday in Australia.

But current travel options vary state by state.

There are no border restrictions in either New South Wales, Victoria or the ACT. South Australia has opened its borders to Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, with others to be welcomed from 20 July.

Mandatory hotel quarantine has been dropped in the NT while Tasmania's border closure will be revisited early next month.

Queensland has been working towards a July reopening although Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned restrictions won't be lifted if there's active transmission interstate.

In Western Australia, Premier Mark McGowan is standing firm on his decision to keep the border closed until it's "healthy and safe" to open again.

The Australian government has been ramping up pressure on the states to re-open and will intervene in three court challenges against the closures in Western Australia and Queensland, with Attorney-General Christian Porter saying the Commonwealth will argue the restrictions are unconstitutional.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs