New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister wants the much-discussed trans-Tasman travel bubble to start with flights to Tasmania – and maybe Queensland or the Northern Territory.
“Before we went to lockdown, we were talking about getting out of it and having a bubble of success between both countries,” Winston Peters, who is also the country’s Foreign Minister, told the Nine network on Wednesday.
“But we’ve run into the roadblock of federalism, so to speak.”
State border restrictions are holding up the resumption of travel between Australia and New Zealand, with Kiwi leaders becoming frustrated at the delays.
NZ declared itself free of COVID-19 and moved to level one restrictions this week. It has dropped all coronavirus measures – except border controls.
Mr Peters said the “roadblock of federalism” was getting in the way of creating a trans-Tasman travel bubble.
“It’s very clear that Tasmania is set to go and we should start, frankly,” he said.
“Let’s not restrain the movement between our two countries based on the slowest state in Australia.”
Mr Peters said Queensland and the NT could also be an option for Kiwi travellers. That’s despite Queensland and Tasmania having some of the country’s firmest stances on borders.
While some states are welcoming interstate tourists, others, such as Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, are still banning visitors from outside the state.
In May, Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said he had discussed the prospect of direct flights to New Zealand – the first since the 1990s – with Tourism Tasmania and Hobart Airport. Mr Peters confirmed to NZ news website Stuff on Wednesday he had spoken to Mr Gutwein about the flights.
On Tuesday, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was up to Australia whether the travel bubble would be between New Zealand and select states, or if all internal travel restrictions would have to be removed first.
“[Prime Minister Scott Morrison] has actually left that open,” she told a New Zealand radio station.
“We’ve said that’s a matter for Australia, we’re not necessarily here determining that it has to be country-wide.
“They have very deliberately left the option of opening up individual states.”
Mr Morrison has expressed his own frustrations at interstate border restrictions put in place by state premiers.
In May, he said some states had to “get out from under the Doona sometime”.
He said interstate travel restrictions “do harm the economy, they do harm to jobs and it is important that we get those removed as soon as possible”.
Pressure is mounting on the federal government to get the travel bubble operating in time for the winter school holidays.
New Zealand’s tourism industry is hopeful of welcoming Australian visitors to its ski resorts.
Ms Ardern said neither Australia nor New Zealand were ready just yet, but Mr Peters said the delay was on this side of the Tasman.
“Basically, we’re asking for the handbrake to come off, but it has to be organised out of Australia,” Mr Peters said.
The New Zealand government has concerns about recent cases of community transmission in Victoria, but does not expect Australia to eliminate the virus before allowing two-way travel to restart.
Once protocols for managing international tourism between the two countries have been established, both Australia and New Zealand will consider extending the travel bubble to Pacific countries.