A travel ‘bubble’ with Singapore is on the cards, as Australia pours resources into a massive global effort to restart international tourism.
But with Australians unable to go overseas until at least October, the Morrison government must also prioritise getting travel deals off the ground closer to home – and continues to cop criticism of its discount holiday plan, even from within its own ranks.
Singapore ‘very keen’
As the government seeks to expand the current ‘one-way’ bubble with New Zealand so that Australians can visit without quarantining, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan has revealed Singapore is next on the list.
“I had discussions with the Singaporean Trade Minister and Singapore are very keen to work with Australia on a proof of vaccination certificate and we agreed our officials should work together on this,” Mr Tehan told The New Daily in a statement.
“I’m scheduled to travel to Singapore in the coming months and this will be a key topic of discussions as we seek to explore a travel bubble with Singapore.”
The Nine newspapers first reported a possibility that Australians currently stuck overseas, on long waiting lists to fly home, may be able to do two weeks quarantine in Singapore before flying to Australia.
However, Mr Tehan did not say whether that was part of discussions, or how the Singaporean government would appreciate accommodating Australians potentially returning from global COVID hotspots.
In a statement, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was in talks for a travel bubble, but that it is “not in discussion on the concept of a quarantine centre or vaccination hub”.
The government said last week it tentatively plans for international borders to open widely in October, pending successful rollout of vaccines worldwide.
In the interim, travel bubbles with other nations like Japan, South Korea and Pacific neighbours could be explored.
Kiwis can enter Australia without quarantining, but Aussies still have to quarantine when arriving in NZ, so turning the current one-way travel bubble into a true two-way reciprocal arrangement is the government’s first priority.
Senior government sources told TND a successful two-way arrangement with NZ would have to be locked in before any further deals are inked.
Labor’s shadow trade minister Madeleine King said the Opposition supported such travel bubbles, but said the government should heed medical advice when relaxing border rules.
“It’s up to the government to show how such an arrangement can operate safely,” she told TND.
“A so-called travel bubble with Singapore would be beneficial for this trading relationship, but the health of Australians must be the most important consideration.”
Vaccine passports in the works
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert is also part of discussions, with his portfolio in charge of figuring out how Australians will prove they’ve been vaccinated, and how that could link up with passports – to facilitate international travel.
The government announced last month that ‘vaccination certificates’ for COVID jabs could be displayed through the MyGov service.
People would be able to show their vaccination status, if needed, to enter public premises or cross state borders.
“We are in a great position to provide proof of vaccinations to all Australians from the moment the first vaccine was administered,” Mr Robert told TND.
He said vaccination records may later be entwined with passports.
Government MPs criticise government tourism package
Meanwhile, the government is inking deals back at home.
It has added more destinations to its half-price airline tickets scheme, and flagged that more cities may be on the list in future.
Industries like tourism and aviation had pleaded for some form of wage subsidy to continue past the end of JobKeeper, which is due to finish this month.
The government has instead pledged limited support for airline providers, and 800,000 half-price tickets to holiday destinations including Broome, the Sunshine Coast, Launceston and Merimbula.
After criticism that most destinations were in seats the Coalition wanted to hold or win at the next federal election, the list was expanded to include Darwin, Hobart, Adelaide and Townsville.
Even members of the Coalition were upset at the list.
The Nine newspapers reported Nationals MPs unhappy with the plan; Pat Conaghan claimed it had “the right intentions but the wrong rollout”, while Anne Webster said it was “terrible” regional Victoria had missed out.
— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) March 13, 2021
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Sunday it was “an initial list” and the government “will potentially add more” destinations.
“What we’ve done is made sure those areas which don’t have the international tourists as they normally would … to get those people from Australia to those locations to spend money,” he told the ABC’s Insiders.