Journalist: How likely is it that we’re going to develop a travel bubble with New Zealand or anyone else?
Simon Birmingham: A number of countries in addition to New Zealand have expressed interest in trying to find safe pathways to open up to Australia down the track. Now, our number one priority is always going to be the health consideration and keeping Australians safe. But if we can find a means to safely accommodate travel from some countries at some point in the future who’ve got similar COVID outcomes to us, then of course we’ll explore it.
Journalist: How important will it be to also be for our tourism industry?
Simon Birmingham: If we can find safe pathways to open up to other countries then there’s huge opportunities in terms of economic benefits by getting business flowing again and trade flowing again and tourists moving again.
Journalist: Has that been a big loss for Australia in terms of the wealth created from tourists from Japan, for example, China?
Simon Birmingham: Australians have seen thousands of jobs lost across airlines and airports in particular. And so if we can find ways to get trade moving, business moving, tourists moving, then we can try to save some of those jobs that are otherwise sadly being lost as a result of COVID at present.
Journalist: So ideally you’re looking at next year for something like this where we open international borders? There’s no suggestion that it might happen before then, is there?
Simon Birmingham: Nothing’s going to happen in a hurry and we have to take the baby steps making sure that we get everything right around health outcomes, first and foremost. We’ll see where we go with New Zealand, hopefully by the end of this year. But then for any other countries, we’ll have to get that model right and have absolute confidence that those countries can be managed safely and will pose no health risks to Australians.
Journalist: Is there an appetite, do you think, for Australians outside of Victoria to travel again? Are people going a bit stir-crazy, do you think?
Simon Birmingham: We’re seeing in states where local restrictions have been eased there’s huge enthusiasm to get out there across regional Australia. There’s almost a mini-tourism boom in some parts of the country right now, while others are sadly losing their jobs and seeing their businesses going under because there’s virtually no interstate travel and absolutely no overseas travel. This is all the price we’re paying for Australia’s success in containing the spread of COVID. But if we can find safe ways to get those interstate borders opened up, to get people traveling again, and ultimately to consider some safe areas of international travel, well, all of that can just help us to save jobs, save businesses and have a better economic recovery in the long run.
Journalist: If there continue to be outbreaks, could you have a travel bubble just between certain parts of Australia and other countries? Or would it be more of a national approach?
Simon Birmingham: I think we’ll have to discuss some of those issues in relation to New Zealand when we talk about that again towards the end of this year. Clearly, there might still be hesitations in relation to Victoria, depending on how long full suppression takes in Victoria. And we have to be conscious there that the success of some states shouldn’t be held back by the failure of one or any other state. And if we can get some progress there that will save jobs, facilitate movement and do it safely, then we should.
Journalist: When do you think we’ll see this issue of state border closures resolved?
Simon Birmingham: The state border closures we’re seeing quite inconsistent approaches taken by the different state and territory leaders. I hope that we can see National Cabinet agree some consistent approaches to what hot spots look like, how it is that we can get some confidence back in travellers and the business community so they know what’s going to happen with state borders. Everyone understands that Victoria should be closed off from the rest of the country at present. That’s not in doubt. But what we want to see is a proportionate approach being taken, and sadly some of the state premiers, by talking about keeping their borders shut absolutely, to everybody, until the end of this year or even next year, they’re not taking a proportionate approach.
Journalist: What impact will that have on the economy if some states wait to reopen until there’s zero community transmission?
Simon Birmingham: The risk of seeing states wait all the way into next year keeping their borders closed even when they’ve got comparable outcomes to every state around them, is that we’ll see even more job losses in the airline sector, in airports, in hotels, right across the areas that rely and depend upon people moving across our states and moving around our country. And at some point we risk losing so much capability that it’s even harder to recover in the long run. That is a game that some of the state premiers might be playing, might be risking. That’s why we’ve got to be very careful in the long run about how we do open up safely, do it absolutely following the health advice, but make sure that we don’t keep borders in place any longer than is absolutely necessary.