Interview on 4BC, Drive, with Scott Emerson
Scott Emerson: It's school holidays right now and if travel was an option, would you be planning a holiday within Australia? Would you like the chance to travel to New Zealand? Well, the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that travel between some Australian states might be possible before Christmas. But which states will be included in this travel bubble? Now, Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and he's on the line now. Minister, thanks for joining us on for 4BC Drive.
Simon Birmingham: Hello Scott. Great to be with you again.
Scott Emerson: We're talking about this travel bubble, how do you understand how it would work and when might it happen?
Simon Birmingham: We've been having quite a lot of discussions both with New Zealand and across government agencies in Australia to make sure that everyone is prepared to step through something that can be done in a really COVID-safe way and prove that we can manage to open up borders to countries with comparable success in suppressing and managing COVID to us. New Zealand is the obvious first pick. And so, some of the things that we have been looking at are how do you process individuals coming through airports to make sure that if you've got a plane landing from New Zealand at the same time as a plane is bringing in people from a COVID hotspot elsewhere in the world, clearly those in the hotspot will be going into the mandatory 14 days quarantine. There'll be returning Australians and we'll have to make sure that they're handled very carefully as the authorities are all doing at present. And what you don't want is them all queuing up at the desk to pass through immigration at the same time as your plane load of New Zealanders.
So, a lot of those logistical things that we're just working through to make sure we have the likes of green lanes to help people process through from New Zealand so that if we do give the green light to say that the Kiwis can come without those quarantine obligations because they pose no risk to Australians given their success in managing COVID, we do so in a way that is safe to them, safe for our community, and of course safe for New Zealand upon their return. So that's a lot of the logistical sort of work that's been going on with Customs officials, Border Force officials, airports and airlines both in Australia and New Zealand to think about how this could work and do so in a thoroughly COVID-safe way.
Scott Emerson: I did see Annastacia Palaszczuk was asked about this over the weekend, and she was very lukewarm about it, saying nothing's been decided at all. This is an issue for National Cabinet and would not commit to any possible travel bubble with New Zealand at this stage. Is that a reasonable stance for her to take?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Queensland has plenty of upside to seek in relation to opening up with New Zealand. Queensland received almost half a million, some 500,000 visitors from New Zealand last year and they spent around $600 million in touring and travelling across the wonderful experiences of Queensland. Now, nobody would say we should open up just for the sake of those dollars if there was a demonstrable health threat. But Queensland should be recognising that New Zealand, like most states of Australia, has done an incredible job in successfully managing COVID, and if the same type of benchmarks and thresholds can be met that demonstrate that Queenslanders can have confidence that New Zealanders pose no greater threat than, say, South Australians, then I would hope that there would be a willingness to welcome those New Zealanders.
Scott Emerson: Well, you’ve mentioned South Australia. It is opening up its borders to New South Wales, but Queensland is still holding very tough on that. There is the border bubble on the other border between New South Wales and Queensland but it only extends down to, say, Ballina. Queensland has taken a much harder line than, say, South Australia on this. Does that give you concern regarding any willingness then to open up to, say, New Zealand?
Simon Birmingham: I'm worried that the very, very slow pace of movement there is indeed hurting tourism operators and undermining job security for many Queenslanders more than would otherwise have been the case. South Australia has acted in accordance with their health advice, following evidence-based approach, as I said, of checking to make sure 14 consecutive days of no community transmission in New South Wales. That's given them the confidence then to open up. I welcome the fact that Queensland has opened up to the ACT. That was a long time coming in making that decision, and the ACT is now up to about 80 days I think of no community transmission and- or not a single case in fact in the case of the ACT. And I just would really encourage Queensland to look at that SA model, which the community has embraced and accepted. It is now allowing families and loved ones to be reunited between New South Wales and South Australia. It's allowing tourism and travel to lift, and it is saving jobs in, not only airlines, but in so many small businesses that rely on that sort of travel to occur. And if we can get there safely with New Zealand and have the same consistent, careful approach taken, then we should have confidence to be able to do that too. And I’d hope that Queensland would do so because if they didn't follow the evidence and open up safely, then they would be leaving a greater opportunity for a New South Wales or a South Australia to get those Kiwis who might be looking for a bit of a break and escape to come and spend money in other states instead.
Scott Emerson: Alright. Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining 4BC Drive this afternoon. And that was Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham.