Australia’s international travel ban could be lifted within weeks, with a draft plan for the proposed trans-Tasman bubble just days away from consideration.
The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group, which is working on how to open the borders between Australia and New Zealand, said the draft would go to the federal and NZ governments in early June.
“New Zealand and Australia have worked really hard to get where they are in containing the spread of COVID-19,” the group’s co-chair, Scott Tasker, said on Wednesday.
“We are very fortunate to now be in a position where our governments can even contemplate the safe re-opening of the trans-Tasman border, for the benefit of our communities and economies.
“Our aim is to put forward a detailed set of recommendations that safely manage any health risks, while also allowing Kiwis and Australians to travel to each country without the need for a 14-day quarantine.”
There is strong support on both sides of the Tasman for an Australia-NZ travel bubble. The plan gained momentum as coronavirus infections fell in both countries, with NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joining a meeting of Australia’s National Cabinet early in May to discuss it.
However, the push has also added to pressure on Australian states to open their domestic borders.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said this week that closed borders in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania should not “become an obstacle to progress” on trans-Tasman travel.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to “consider” establishing the safe travel zone in July as part of the federal government’s third step to Australia’s new normal.
New Zealand ski operators are pinning their hopes on trans-Tasman travel getting the go-ahead.
Australians make up about 40 per cent of the market for NZ Ski’s three fields – The Remarkables and Coronet Peak near Queenstown and Mount Hutt near Christchurch. NZ’s ski season starts on June 12, and is in full swing by July 4.
“This year we’re not expecting to be profitable,” NZ Ski chief executive Paul Anderson said.
“We need to have a core of labour on the mountain to operate safely and we won’t compromise on that, so we will run at a loss.
“[But] the bubble would be a game-changer.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Australians accounted for 40 per cent of New Zealand’s total foreign arrivals – the biggest single number.
Australia was also the most popular outbound travel destination for Kiwis. New Zealand sent 1.4 million visitors to Australia in 2019 – second in numbers only to China.
The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group is made up of 11 government agencies, six airports and two airlines, and includes health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives from both countries.
The group’s other co-chair is co-chair is Margy Osmond, the chief executive of Australia’s Tourism & Transport Forum. She said experts were considering the protections required to create a safe travel zone, including eligibility for travel, how to manage passengers, enhanced cleaning protocols and education campaigns.
“It’s critically important that people can have confidence in the safety of a trans-Tasman safe travel zone,” she said.
The working group’s proposal will be completed by early June and then shared with ministers on both sides of the Tasman.