Australia-New Zealand travel bubble could be in place by September, expert group says

Regional News
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

CANBERRA (The Guardian/Pacnews) —   The plan for a “Trans-Tasman bubble” to allow Australians and New Zealanders to travel between the two countries could be presented to both governments as early as next week, and could be operational by September, the expert working group behind the proposal has said.

Canberra and Wellington have been discussing the possibility of a travel bubble between the countries as both countries have — to date — slowed the spread of Covid-19, to levels well below those seen in the United States, the UK, and across Europe.

On Wednesday, the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said in conversations with her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison there was enthusiasm from both sides for travel to resume. 

“We are working to move on this as quickly as we can. We are both very keen on it...across both sides of the ditch,” Ardern, who joined a meeting of Australia’s national cabinet in May to discuss the proposal.

“It won’t be too long before we are ready.” 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to “consider” establishing the safe travel zone in July as part of the federal government’s third phase of easing travel restrictions.

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group — a 40-strong expert panel which includes representatives made up of 11 government agencies, six airports and two airlines, health experts and border agencies — has been working on a detailed proposal to allow the two countries to re-open their borders with each other.

It says it will be ready to present the plan to both the Australian and New Zealand governments in “early June.” 

Co-chair of the group, Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond, said a national survey conducted by the forum showed Australians were keen to travel again once restrictions were eased, particularly domestic and short-haul international travel. 

“Not surprisingly New Zealand tops the list of countries people would like to visit and they consider it no more risky than travelling interstate,” Osmond said.

“This is a strong endorsement of plans for a Trans-Tasman bubble allowing travel between the two countries and we would be expecting that to commence as early as September.”

Auckland airport executive Scott Tasker, fellow co-chair of the safe border group, said both countries had worked hard to — so far — successfully limit the spread of Covid-19.

“We are very fortunate to now be in a position where our governments can even contemplate the safe re-opening of the trans-Tasman border, for the benefit of our communities and economies.

“Our aim is to put forward a detailed set of recommendations that safely manage any health risks, while also allowing Kiwis and Australians to travel to each country without the need for a 14-day quarantine.”

Australians are the largest national cohort visiting New Zealand, accounting for 40% of all foreign arrivals. Similarly, Australia is the most popular destination for New Zealanders travelling overseas.

Australia was also the most popular outbound travel destination for Kiwis. New Zealand sent 1.4 million visitors to Australia in 2019 — second in numbers only to China. 

Some Pacific Islands, most prominently Fiji and Vanuatu, have indicated that they would like to be included in a regional safe travel bubble. The economies of both countries are hugely dependent on tourism, and admittance to a “Trans-Pacific” bubble could assist in their post-Covid recovery.

The Pacific, as a region, has had very low numbers of Covid-19 infections, leveraging the region’s geographic isolation through the strict enforcement of border closures.

But there are significant fears if the virus were to gain a significant foothold in the region, it could devastate island communities, which have limited public health infrastructure, and populations with high rates of comorbidities.

Government backbencher Dave Sharma, the member for Wentworth, Australia, has argued for an expanded “Trans-Pacific bubble,” saying “Australia views the Pacific as family: we look out for each other in tough times.”

“We need an expanded trans-Tasman bubble to incorporate much of the Pacific.

“By allowing normal air links and tourism to resume, we would provide a lifeline for many of these small economies. The Pacific Islands could once more begin to access their biggest tourism markets, Australia and New Zealand.”

The debate over resumed international travel — however circumscribed — has again drawn attention to Australia’s internal travel restrictions. Several states, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, and Queensland, have border controls, including completely sealed borders.

There is growing pressure on premiers of those states to lift restrictions to allow for domestic travel to help restart battered tourism economies.

Federal tourism minister Simon Birmingham of Australia cautioned that those internal restrictions could become a barrier to the Trans-Tasman proposal.

“If New Zealand and some Australian states are ready and willing to progress, then the reluctance of other states to open up their domestic borders shouldn’t become an obstacle to progress.”

previous arrow
next arrow

Read more articles

Visit our Facebook Page

previous arrow
next arrow