Interview with Tom Connell, Sky NewsDay

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

Tom Connell: I was joined a short time ago by Tourism and Trade Minister Dan Tehan. I began by asking him what assurances he could give that the border won't be slammed shut again in the future.

Dan Tehan: Look, I'm very confident. All the medical advice points to the fact that we're in a very safe place to be able to open our borders. Obviously, we took the advice of the Chief Medical Officer in making this step, and he wouldn't have made the decision to give us the okay if he didn't think it was the right thing for us to do. You have to remember, international students and backpackers, we announced that before Christmas, we've seen 28 000 backpackers come into the country in the last couple of months; 7 000 international students turned up in the last week, so we've been building up to this and we're very confident that now we've made this decision, we'll be able to keep those borders open.

Tom Connell: What does that health advice say about when you would have to shut borders again?

Dan Tehan: Obviously, that would depend on what happens with Omicron or whether there's new variants.

Tom Connell: I mean, Omicron we know about. There would have to be a new more lethal variant to even consider shutting the borders. Is that where we're at?

Dan Tehan: It's hard without a crystal ball to know what's ahead of us. Everything in front of us, of the health officials, at the moment points to the fact that this is very safe for us to take the action that we have, and that's why we've done it. I can tell you it's welcomed by the tourism industry across the board. The 600 000 people employed in the tourism industry will be over the moon. We've got a wonderful country, wonderful people that welcome international tourists, so this is very good news.

Tom Connell: I'll get to that in a moment. The people that can arrive have to be vaccinated. What's the health reason for that?

Dan Tehan: So, they're doubly vaccinated because what we have to do is make sure that if people are coming here, and visiting here, that when they come here they're not likely to be susceptible to the virus and end up in hospital.

Tom Connell: So, it's not spreading it, it's ending up in hospital?

Dan Tehan: Ending up in hospital. So, we have got to make sure – and all along one of the things about our health response is to be making sure that our health system isn't overwhelmed.

Tom Connell: That makes sense, except you only have to be double vaccinated, so if someone got their second jab a year ago, can they come to Australia?

Dan Tehan: Once again, every decision we've made has been made on the health advice and you have to remember each individual country has their version of what is fully vaccinated, and most of them are that you have to be double vaccinated.

Tom Connell: That could be a year ago. You could have had your second vaccination a year ago?

Dan Tehan: Well, ultimately, the best advice that we have is that you have to be doubly vaccinated. So, if you have been doubly vaccinated, the health officials are saying that that enables you to come to the country.

Tom Connell: Even though the data we know about that would suggest you could end up, you're more likely to end up, in hospital than someone with an up‑to‑date vaccination, and we have a different definition for Australians.

Dan Tehan: Right the way through this we've taken the medical advice, and this is what the Chief Medical Officer advised us: he said double-vaccinated is what you should have as the requirement, and that's the decision that the Government has taken.

Tom Connell: They said don't – we could be moving to a booster in Australia, that you are up to date if you have a booster, and the specific advice was not to apply that to tourists?

Dan Tehan: The specific advice was that double-vaccinated should be the requirement for welcoming international tourists back.

Tom Connell: How could you have one standard for tourists and a higher one for Australians?

Dan Tehan: All through this we've taken the health advice, and the health advice has been doubly vaccinated for international tourists coming back to Australia. Now, what happens in terms of boosters here in Australia — and decisions that are made there will be made by ATAGI, and they will make those decisions — but we've made the decision to open up the international border based on the health advice, and they've said double-vaccinated and so the Government has taken the decision, 21 February, the borders will reopen, and I can tell you our tourism sector is over the moon on this decision.

Tom Connell: But it is a lower bar for tourists. Was that because you had to be realistic that if you had a booster required, we just wouldn't get people here?

Dan Tehan: It's because different countries, obviously, have different advice that is given about what is fully vaccinated, but across the board doubly vaccinated is regarded as that is fully vaccinated, so that's why we have taken the decision based on what –

Tom Connell: An update in the future depending on –

Dan Tehan: Obviously, right throughout this pandemic we've taken the health advice, but we've made this decision based on the health advice. And I can tell you what Tourism Australia are doing: they're getting out there into our international markets to make sure international tourists know they're welcome back here in Australia, to come to the best country in the world, visit the best attractions and be welcomed by the best people in the world.

Tom Connell: Do they need a big Government‑backed – tourism operators that is – Government‑backed tourism campaign? We're known as Fortress Australia. Do we need to turn around that perception?

Dan Tehan: One of the things throughout the pandemic, the last two years, that we've done is we've rolled over our tourism marketing campaign. We've kept some marketing going in our key markets, but we've been waiting for this day.

Tom Connell: There's a war chest waiting.

Dan Tehan: We're ready to go and Tourism Australia are gearing that up as we speak. There will be a seven, eight, nine, $10 million campaign rolling out over the coming days into key markets to make sure that everyone knows that we're open for business again and looking forward to these tourists coming back. I was in my electorate along the Great Ocean Road last week, visiting Lorne, Apollo Bay, I was in Anglesea, Port Campbell, and I can tell you there everyone is looking forward to welcoming the tourists back, and I'm sure that's the same right across Australia.

Tom Connell: International travel is way down. I think it is about 15 per cent of pre‑pandemic levels, might we need some Government subsidies to get routes back in terms of airlines? Are you looking at that?

Dan Tehan: Look, aviation is obviously a key driver, but one of the things we've always done is make sure with our tourism marketing we work hand in glove with the aviation sector, so as those international tourists begin to rebuild, you'll see those aviation routes rebuild as well.

Tom Connell: Will it be subsidised at all?

Dan Tehan: We've been providing assistance to the international aviation sector and the domestic aviation sector here in Australia through the pandemic. But our hope is, and this is something that Alan Joyce at Qantas and Jayne Hrdlicka at Virgin have been saying, if we can open the borders and get the international tourism back, then they will be right to be able to get those routes going again –

Tom Connell: So, you don't think subsidies are needed?

Dan Tehan: Well, we have been providing subsidies.

Tom Connell: But I mean for those routes for international airlines to get them flying in from destinations from around the world?

Dan Tehan: I think if we can get the international tourists back, the airlines will welcome that, and they'll get those routes up and running before we know it.

Tom Connell: Dan Tehan, thanks for your time.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure.


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