Interview with Jeremy Lee, Breakfast with Jeremy Lee

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Return of international tourists, border re-opening
08 February 2022

Jeremy Lee: Look, we'll get to news headlines and traffic in a moment, but first this morning we are going straight to Dan Tehan, member for Wannon and Federal Minister for Tourism amongst other portfolios. He's got a very busy morning lined up but has got a few minutes to talk to us this morning. Dan Tehan, welcome to you.

Dan Tehan: Always a pleasure, Jeremy.

Jeremy Lee: Thank-you, and look, as we've been reporting in the news this morning, the Federal Government has announced that Australia's borders will reopen in two weeks' time from February the 21st welcoming fully vaccinated arrivals on all types of visas, I think without the need for quarantine. What's sort of allowed this to happen? Why is now the right time?

Dan Tehan: Well, all along through the pandemic we've been taking the health advice as to when we should reopen —and we did it first with backpackers and international students. We've seen about 28,000 backpackers come back over the last couple of months. International students as well, we've seen 7,000 international students arrive last week. And the health advice now is we can take that next step to open up to everyone, for all international tourists.

And that's wonderful news for the 600,000 people employed in our tourism sector, and especially for us in south west Victoria with the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles, Budj Bim and the Grampians, just the wonderful attractions we have right across western Victoria. We'll begin to see those international tourists come back. 600,000 jobs employed in the tourism industry. There's many in western Victoria who rely on it. So, another wonderful step in us dealing with this pandemic.

Jeremy Lee: Now what sort of checks are in place? What's required of people who are coming into Australia at the moment?

Dan Tehan: Well, you have to be doubly vaccinated, that's the medical advice that we've received, if you don't want to quarantine and that's what we've done for international students and for backpackers. So, obviously, you've got to —you know — you've got to be able to demonstrate that you've been doubly vaccinated if you don't want to quarantine. That's done when people arrive. It's working well with backpackers and international students. They're coming. They've been able – especially the backpackers and international students who have been helping us be able to contribute to the workforce issues that we've got at the moment. So, everything has been working seamlessly, and we expect that to continue on as we welcome international tourists back.

Jeremy Lee: Okay. What happens, though – because it's inevitable that somebody is going to perhaps arrive who doesn't meet some of those requirements – what happens if that does happen? If someone gets off a plane and we discover they're not fully vaccinated or don't have the right exemptions?

Dan Tehan: Well, there's two things which will potentially happen – one, they would have to go into quarantine. If they didn't want to go into quarantine then they would have to return from where they came. And we'll be very clear in all the messaging and we're already beginning our marketing into key markets to get the international tourists back. But one of the requirements is that you have to be doubly vaccinated —and, as I've said, we've seen with international students and with backpackers a very clear understanding of that requirement and so far we've seen it work very seamlessly.

Jeremy Lee: Where are we expecting most travellers to come from then? What are those key places that you're targeting perhaps where we are expecting people will be keen to travel to Australia?

Dan Tehan: So, in the first instance the UK and North America will be where we're targeting because when the international tourists return they won't have to quarantine in the country that they're returning to. So obviously that's seamless international travel. We're expecting a lot of business travel. We haven't – we've seen that business travel hasn't been occurring in the rates that it was before the pandemic. But we're expecting a lot of business travel. And then as other countries open up and say that there's no longer a need to quarantine if you're doubly vaccinated, especially in Asia, we'll look to boost our marketing there as well.

Jeremy Lee: How do we sort of sit in terms of those other countries as well? Are we sort of one of the last to be doing this, to be reopening? Or are there still plenty of places where there are, you know, a lot of restrictions in place, a lot of caution still around international travel?

Dan Tehan: There is still a lot of countries that do have restrictions in place. So North America and the UK are very much in a similar position now to Australia. But a lot of other countries still have quarantine requirements in place for people when they return home. Now our view is that that will start to – they'll start to open up over the coming weeks and we'll be in a very good place to be able to welcome those tourists back as well as they begin to drop their quarantine requirements.

Jeremy Lee: All right. It's 25 minutes away from nine here on ABC Ballarat and South West Victoria. Just for listeners on ABC Ballarat, I believe we had a bit of a switching glitch earlier which meant you got a tiny bit of Fiona Parker. But Dan Tehan, member for Wannon and federal Minister for Tourism is with us here on Breakfast having a chat about the reopening of international borders in a couple of weeks' time on the 21st of February.

Dan Tehan, what sort of guarantees are there from the Government as well about no further border closures? I guess, you know, you'd want some security around this. And we've seen, I guess, with New Zealand where they reopened their borders there was a short period people travelled and then the borders closed again. It's very hard, imagine, to plan, make a lot of plans, when there's still a danger of borders closing. Is the Government now committed to keeping the borders open?

Dan Tehan: Look, we want to do everything we can to keep the borders open and that's why we've had a very calibrated approach to reopening. It's why we went first with international students and with backpackers, because we wanted to have that calibrated approach. We've seen that we've been able to work with that and be able to open up to our backpackers and international students in a way which has still enabled us to manage the pandemic. And now based on the very best medical advice from the Australian Chief Medical Officer we've taken this next step.

So, we're very confident that we'll be able to now keep the international border open and be able to provide that surety to the 600,000 people that are employed in the tourism industry, all those wonderful businesses that provide all those wonderful attractions for tourists who come and visit us from right across around the world, give them the surety that we're open for business again — and this is wonderful, wonderful news for our tourism industry.

Jeremy Lee: How quickly do you expect we will get back to those pre-pandemic levels as well? I gather there are still state caps, are there in place when it comes to international arrivals?

Dan Tehan: Well, we're confident that over the coming months that we'll be able to see the international tourism sector reboot very quickly. Now, getting back to those pre-pandemic levels, obviously, what we need to see, especially hopefully with Western Australia reopening over time, that will then give us a further boost. So, we're expecting a very strong rebound. But when we'll actually get to those pre-pandemic levels obviously will depend a little bit with what is happening around the rest of the world with the pandemic. But we think that given the way that we have managed the pandemic both from a health perspective and also from an economic perspective that we're going to see those numbers kick back very quickly.

Jeremy Lee: All right. West Australia being the sort of closed fortress that it has been for some time now, do you know what's happening there? Are international flights going to be coming to Western Australia as well, or is that still some time away?

Dan Tehan: Look, that, ultimately, will be a decision for the Western Australian State Government. We're doing everything we can to work with them to hopefully be able to get them to reopen as quickly as we possibly can. Because one of the key things that happens when people travel from across the world to come to Australia is they like to visit multiple states. That's one of the experiences that they like. So, we're hopeful that Western Australia, over time, will reopen and we'll be able to make sure that international tourists have every part of this country in their options to be able to travel to, because they do like to go to two or three states when they come here.

Jeremy Lee: Yeah, look, I know you've got other appointments to go to, Dan Tehan. Before I let you go, though, when's the election happening?

Dan Tehan: Look, ultimately, up to the Prime Minister, but in the meantime we are governing. That's why we've taken this decision on opening the borders. I'll be flying to India tomorrow for a couple of days, Jeremy, to try and see if we can nail an India-Australia FTA. Obviously, there's legislation before the Parliament. So, there's many things that we're still trying to do. There'll be a budget at the end of March, and then the PM will make a decision around the election so, I think, everything points to some time in May, but the PM will be the one who decides.

Jeremy Lee: All right. We'll look forward to that date when it's announced. Dan Tehan, thanks again for your time.

Dan Tehan: Thanks, Jeremy.

ENDS

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