Air New Zealand could be flying the Tasman again in time for the July school holidays which start on July 1.
Tourism industry sources believe that is possible after yesterday’s announcement that Australia and New Zealand are to work to establish a “trans-Tasman Covid -safe travel zone.”
The idea has moved rapidly since it was first mooted only a fortnight ago with what y one industry executive involved in the process described as a “napkin sketch”.
And it appears to have been cemented by the “odd couple” relationship between Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison.
So now, the Trans- Tasman Safe Border Group will hold its first meeting next Tuesday.
It includes representatives from airports, airlines and the border agencies along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
There will be a matching body in Australia.
The Australian Co-chair of the Australia New Zealander Leadership Forum, Margy Osmond, said the target outcome would be a set of safe travel processes to manage health risks while allowing trans-Tasman travel to recommence without the need for a 14-day compulsory quarantine or self-isolation period on arrival in the destination country.
The group will focus on the technical details, including robust health requirements, such as testing and contact tracing for visitors once they arrive.
“The whole purpose of us discussing the possibility of having a bubble of sorts between us, a safe zone of travel, would be so that you wouldn’t have to have a quarantine attached,” Ardern said yesterday.
“I think everyone would acknowledge that it would be prohibitive.
“People just wouldn’t travel if they had to stay on either side in quarantine for up to two weeks and have to do the same again when they returned.”
It is possible passengers might need some form of certificate to show that they have been tested for Covid-19 and do not have it.
But there are also concerns about whether New Zealand’s contact tracing is yet up to what might be required if large numbers of passengers decided to fly.
Ardern said the bubble could be removed if there was an outbreak of cases.
“We would have some expectations that when travel resumes or if we’re able to establish this kind of bubble, making sure we were doing it safely for us,” she said.
“And so it would mean if we saw a cluster of cases or growth in cases or outbreaks, that we would have to look at changing what we were doing and what we were receiving on our side.”
The Australian states are responsible for inter-state travel, and before any borders with New Zealand are lifted, they will need to lift their internal travel restrictions.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC yesterday that New Zealand travel was a possibility soon — but only after testing interstate travel first.
“Queensland is an international tourist destination, but it is also a prominent Australian tourist destination as well, so we’ll be buckling down on the domestic market first and foremost.
“And [then] we’ll target New Zealand, and then hopefully down the track, when we beat this virus, the world will once again open up.”
That is the way the tourism industry would prefer it played out here too; that domestic tourism was opened up as soon as possible.
The airlines would then like to see travel to the Pacific Islands, particularly the Cooks, which will soon face an economic crisis if tourism is not resumed. Then, Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday he hoped the reopening of Australia’s state borders would also help in boosting the economy.
When that happens, he said, he expected Australia would be in a position to allow travel from New Zealand.
“The two-way travel between Australia and New Zealand is about 1.4 million a year both ways, almost as many Kiwis come here as Australians go there,” he said.
“Particularly for states like Queensland, there is a much greater share of that tourism travel that comes out of New Zealand into Queensland.
“As we build up our economies again, and particularly for trans-Tasman travel and what it means for the airlines, that will be important to support jobs in those sectors.”
But while the Prime Minister was taking part in the Australian cabinet meeting, the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, was unfavourably comparing Australia’s management of covid-19 with New Zealand.
He asked Ardern why, considering Australia and New Zealand had almost identical health outcomes, she was still imposing tougher restrictions on economic activity than Australia?
That allowed Ardern to subtly boast about her constant telecommunications contact with Morrison.
“As members in the House well know, I’ve been in fairly frequent dialogue with the leadership in Australia, and there are a lot of similarities with our approach,” she said.
“Each of us is now looking at removing restrictions, and the phased approach in order to do that.”
Bridges is clearly frustrated by Ardern’s relationship with is ideological soulmate in Canberra, Morrison.
Morrison and Ardern two frequently talk on the phone, and Morrison happily recounts some of these conversations at his press conferences.
What is odd about the relationship is that politically they are polar opposites; he the conservative evangelical Christian and she, the progressive liberal.
But sometimes these odd-couple pairings work across the Tasman. The Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard later wrote that he would not forget Helen Clark’s offer to assist him in housing the refugees from the stranded boat, the Tampa in 2001.
Already the Morrison-Ardern travel agreement is being seen as an international model.
Dr Keith Suter, Managing Director of the Australian-based Global Directions think tank, said .if the plan went ahead it would be a world first.
“It will be inspiring for the rest of the world as it’s proof that there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
It will all depend on whether New Zealand can guarantee that the travellers will not spread the disease either here or in Australia.
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