Interview with Leith Forrest, 5AA
Leith Forrest: Overseas travel and international borders will be open by Christmas, that is the message from our Federal Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan, who joins me this morning. Minister, thank you so much for your time.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure Leith, how are you?
Leith Forrest: I'm well. That is exciting news. Is it realistic?
Dan Tehan: Look, it is. The rate that Australians are rolling their sleeves up and getting vaccinated. We set out a national plan with all the states and territories around when international travel would resume, and when the national rate of vaccination hits 80% and the individual level in a state and territory hits 80% then the international borders are open. And we are on track to reach that target by Christmas at the latest.
Leith Forrest: Where are we right now with that? So, getting towards 80%? Christmas is the best part of 12 weeks away.
Dan Tehan: So, at the moment, we expect this week to hit the double vaccinated at national average rate this week, so that would be 50% of Australians will be doubly vaccinated by this week is where we are heading. And as with regards to the 80% rate we are already seeing in some states them hitting single dose 80% and the national average for single dose is well into the 70% mark at the moment.
Leith Forrest: So even what's happening with Victoria and New South Wales, you're confident that as a country we can get to that 80% before Christmas, therefore overseas travel commences.
Dan Tehan: I am. And if everyone keeps doing their job and rolling their sleeves up we will get there before Christmas. So that's wonderful news because Australians love to travel, they love to travel within Australia, and also they love to travel overseas. And that's why we have set out in the national plan the rationale and the reasons behind us being able to open that international border again once we hit that 80% vaccination rate.
Leith Forrest: We have seen some of the older generation here, Minister, in Australia not necessarily get up with the digital technology and still sign in with the books when they go to various places. What does it look like for passports, for QR codes; how will that all work?
Dan Tehan: What it looks like is that what we have developed is a technology which will link your vaccine certification to your passport through a QR code. So, when you travel overseas you will just be able to use your mobile phone as a proof of vaccination. Now, that will probably be required as part of travelling overseas to go to a country. We are working through all those arrangements with overseas countries but it's likely that you will need that proof of vaccination. We tried to make it as simple as we possibly can. Obviously it is different for travelling within Australia, and there will be different arrangements. But overseas travel, the proof of vaccination certificate will be linked to your — will be linked to your phone. But we are also — for those people who don't use a phone — we will be able to provide a paper-based copy. So, in those circumstances where you don't use a phone there will be a paper copy, but for the majority, the clear majority, I think now it would be over 99 per cent, just using your phone as proof of vaccination will be the way to do it.
Leith Forrest: So, you're saying if you are not vaccinated you won't be to go internationally. Is that single vaxxed, double vaxxed?
Dan Tehan: You will need to be double vaxxed. Ultimately, it depends on the planes, the aviation carrier themselves. Most of them are saying that you need to be doubly vaccinated and the requirements of the individual countries. But if you really want to make sure that you can travel the best thing you can do is be doubly vaccinated as quickly as possible, because when it comes to the airlines, and when it comes to the countries that we are dealing with, that's likely to be a requirement.
Leith Forrest: Minister, there is a lot of concern and lack of confidence I guess when it comes to the quarantining if people go overseas and then all of a sudden they are forced back into quarantine. Can you walk us through that? How will that work? If we get to that 80%, let's say I go to America to see my family is there any chance that when I return I will either, A, be locked out or, B, I will have to face quarantine when I get home?
Dan Tehan: The quarantining arrangements is something that we are still working through with countries. Ultimately, the situation we would love to get to is the one we had with New Zealand, where we had a travel bubble where you didn't have to quarantine at all if you travelled between Australia and New Zealand. But at this stage that will depend on medical advice and the arrangements we can put in place with Pacific islands, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the US, the UK, who we are talking to about travel bubbles. But one of the most important things that is taking place at the moment is a home quarantine trial. That's taking place in South Australia. And our hope is that we will be able to more and more use home quarantine, we will be able to use the testing, and over time we will be able to reduce the amount of time of home quarantine that is required. And all that continues to be worked through. The pilot in South Australia is incredibly important in that regard. New South Wales are also looking to use home quarantine as well. So, they are all very important trials that are taking place and deliberations that hopefully will begin to limit the amount of quarantining you will have to do when you return, and particularly being able to use your home rather than hotel quarantine.
Leith Forrest: Minister, we know Victoria and New South Wales at the moment are in peak outbreak. Do you still envisage even if we get to the 80% with what's going on in the eastern states that you still will open the international borders. Does that matter?
Dan Tehan: No, the Doherty Institute modelling, which is what we have based the national plan on, which all states and territories signed up to, it doesn't differentiate or doesn't make any changes dependant on the number of COVID cases in a particular state or territory. So New South Wales is very much on track to hit the 80% vaccination rate first. I think Tasmania are second, Victoria are closely following. So, what we will see is once we hit the 80% rate in that individual state or territory and nationally then we can open those international borders and it won't be dependant on the number of cases.
Leith Forrest: Gee, the airlines and travel agents must love you, Minister. I mean it's been such a tough time for them for the last two years. With the news we could be up and about before Christmas, what does that do for the industry?
Dan Tehan: Well, there is 660,000 jobs in Australia in our tourism industry and that's why we are very keen to get everyone vaccinated and open up, because we want Australians to be able to travel freely within Australia and we want Australians to be able to travel overseas and for us to be able to welcome back those international visitors because it's a huge income generator for us. It's a provider of jobs, 660,000 jobs, and we want to get the tourism industry in Australia here back on its feet and humming again. And with this news where there is strong light at the end of the tunnel and that's what we are working to, working to make sure that light at the end of the tunnel ultimately become as a reality for our tourism industry and for those who love and want to travel both within Australia and overseas.
Leith Forrest: Will New Zealand be first or do you imagine that we can go anywhere?
Dan Tehan: Look, when we open for outbound travel it will be for everywhere. What we have and what we need to do for the in-bound travel returning is get the travel bubbles back in place so we can start to put in place those arrangements which will limit quarantining and make it a lot more seamless for that re-entry back into Australia.
Leith Forrest: So let's recap. Before Christmas, or at least at Christmas, overseas travel international borders, but you've got to be vaccinated. You have to have the double vaccination. We need to get to that 80%. When will you know that you're on track?
Dan Tehan: Well, Lieutenant General John Fruen is in charge of the vaccine rollout and he has given us a very strong indication that we are on track to reach that 80% mark before Christmas. So, we continue to monitor it and that message that I just want to give to all your listeners is just to play your part, roll your sleeve up, get the vaccination. I've got my double dose AstraZeneca, and if everyone can do the same we will hit the rate before Christmas. We are on track to hit it before Christmas and we will be travelling before Christmas, which is wonderful news.
Leith Forrest: I know you yourself, you are about to go to India and I think Europe as well. Have you got some fences to mend in France?
Dan Tehan: Look, I will be, you know, very willing to sit down and have some good discussions with the French trade minister and others in France to be able to explain why we took that decision that was very much in Australia's interests to acquire nuclear powered submarines and to get other technology from the US and the UK such as missile technology, cyber technology, AI technology that will keep our nation safe. But also while it's still very much in our interests to have a free trade agreement with the EU and to make sure that we keep a relationship which is bound on incredibly close ties — including both Australian and French soldiers fighting shoulder to shoulder in the first world war. So, I look forward to those discussions and it's working through what is a difficult state in the relationship at the moment because we do understand France's disappointment with the decision that we have taken, but it's an incredibly important decision for the future safety of our nation. And every country, ultimately, has to act in its own national sovereign interest, and we took that tough decision because it was the right one.
Leith Forrest: Good luck. I wish you all the best.
Dan Tehan: Thank you.
Leith Forrest: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. And that is good news. Let's hope that it happens by Christmas.
Dan Tehan: Yes, take care. Bye.
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