Australia has finalised a deal for a limited travel bubble between New Zealand and select Australian states, with flights expected to start arriving from across the Tasman within weeks.
However, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is reluctant to make the arrangement reciprocal.
Deputy PM Michael McCormack said New Zealanders would be able to fly to NSW and the Northern Territory from 12.01am on October 16.
There will be no requirements for visiting Kiwis to complete 14 days quarantine, but they will not be allowed to travel from any designated virus hotspots in that country.
Mr McCormack said health officials had assessed New Zealanders as low risk for transmitting the disease to Australia.
“This is the first stage in what we hope to see as a trans-Tasman bubble between the two countries,” he said on Friday.
“I have just gotten off the phone with [NT] Chief Minister [Michael] Gunner, who says the fish are biting and the beers are cold and he wants to see as many of his New Zealand cousins and friends as possible.”
NSW and the NT were included in the bubble after accepting the federal government’s definition of a ‘hotspot’.
Under the definition, New Zealanders from places with more than three new cases in three days will be excluded from quarantine-free travel.
But the move signals intensified pressure on states to bow to the Commonwealth hotspot definition – which could also trigger more interstate borders reopening.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison had flagged travel beginning between NZ and NSW and South Australia, because they have also opened their borders to other Australians.
Mr McCormack said SA was not part of Friday’s announcement because it had not yet accepted the federal government’s definition of a hotspot.
“South Australia are very close to agreeing to these terms and to agreeing to be the next jurisdiction to come on board,” he said.
Allowing quarantine-free travel from New Zealand will also free up more places in hotel quarantine for returning Australians. Mr McCormack said there would be 325 more places a week in Sydney alone.
“Safe travel of New Zealanders to Australia will enable space in the quarantine system to be freed up for Australians returning from other countries,” he said.
“If Queensland were to agree to this definition, around an additional 250 quarantine places could be freed up.”
But Australians hoping to cross the Tasman will have to wait a little longer, with the New Zealand government not yet satisfied with Australia’s infection rates.
New Zealand is pursuing a COVID-19 elimination strategy that requires criteria that must be met before its borders open to people from other nations, and will not yet reciprocate on quarantine-free travel for Australians.
“If Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister in New Zealand, wants to have Australians going to New Zealand, then that will be up to her and New Zealand as to how those arrangements can be put into place and under what conditions they can be put into place,” Mr McCormack said.
Ms Ardern said on Friday that it was still too early to allow Australians to enter New Zealand.
“We have resisted that because we want to keep New Zealanders safe,” she said.
“We will not open the borders for quarantine-free travel with Australia until it is safe to do so, because doing it too early risks losing all of the freedoms that we already have in our economy. “
Mr McCormack hopes the bubble will also lead to Kiwi sheep shearers coming to Australia.
The move could also potentially allow Pacific islanders to spend two weeks in New Zealand before coming to Australia to work during this summer’s harvest.
“They can come and pick fruit, shear our sheep, fall in love,” Mr McCormack said.