Matt Doran: We’re being told we’ll have to wait until the end of this year or beyond before the restart of overseas travel. Our state borders are likely to remain closed for several months too, but we could see restrictions eased within states sooner if efforts to slow the spread of the virus do succeed.
Joining me now to discuss is Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham. Good morning, Minister. This- well, it’s been an Easter like no other — forced, of course, to stay home. It’s the question everyone wants asked but I understand it’s not an easy question to answer — when will these strict travel restrictions be eased?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we don’t know for sure. What I want to say firstly is a great big thank you to Australians for the way they have embraced the restrictions that have been in place over this Easter. I know it hasn’t been easy to spend time at home, to not undertake the usual breaks or travel around the country, but it has been critical in terms of slowing the spread of the virus and it will remain critical for some time to come.
But there will be another side, whether that is towards the end of this year or exactly when it comes, that’ll be up to the medical officials and the health experts to tell us and guide us in that decision. But now is a good time while people are home, and whether they’re studying as Dan Tehan was just encouraging, bingeing on Netflix, in between all of those things to undertake a little bit of dreaming, a little bit of planning so that those who can afford to and will be in a position to, perhaps they can get out and help the Australian tourism business when we get to the other side of this.
Matt Doran: And of course it’s making it so hard for those regions already crippled by the bushfires. Travelers from overseas though, Minister, still pose the greatest risk to Australia when it comes to COVID-19. So, is it really necessary to keep our state borders closed?
Simon Birmingham: The state border rules are up to the different state and territory governments who’ve enforced them; they are clearly helping to slow down movement across the country and are very consistent with what we’ve done and urged Australians to do over this Easter weekend and at this time which is to slow down movement altogether around Australia.
And so, those state restrictions play a role, they may come off before we get to the point where it’s safe to lift those international restrictions. And certainly at present, internationally it really is only those flights bringing Australians back from overseas that are bringing anybody into the country right now. And all of those people coming in are going into strict 14 days’ quarantine to make sure that we keep Australians safe as we bring those returnees back.
Matt Doran: And have you started discussions yet about easing those international restrictions? Because the figures, of course, to our tourism industry are crippling — $4 billion a month, amongst something in the order of that, that we’re losing from international travelers.
Simon Birmingham: No. It’s far too early to expect that the international restrictions will be eased. Anybody who looks at the news coverage of what else is happening around the world can see how fortunate we are in Australia that we put in place those travel restrictions, and that we put in place the guidelines to apply social distancing across Australia in a strong enough way to slow the spread of the virus here.. And therefore to not be seeing repeats here of the type of terrible deaths, chaos and pressure on hospital systems that we’re seeing in too many other comparable nations.
Matt Doran: Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, you have a tough and unenviable job ahead. Thank you for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.