The return of international tourists to Australia’s shores is “imminent”, according to the Minister for Home Affairs.
Karen Andrews said opening the country’s international border for tourism was now a “priority” for the federal government.
“We opened for families, we opened various pathways, including from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, we’ve opened to economic cohorts, we’ve opened to international students. The next phase is to open to tourists,” Andrews told The ABC’s Insiders.
“We need to bring those back so as soon as we can, we will be opening to international tourists – it’s imminent.”
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hoped to welcome overseas tourists back “well before Easter”, but admitted the government needed further “medical advice” before it would be possible.
Andrews also revealed that some visitors may be turned away if they don’t comply with both visa and entry requirements.
“When people come to Australia, they have to have a valid visa, but they also need to meet the entry requirements to come into the country,” she said.
“Now, at this point in time, to be able to enter Australia if you are a non-Australian, you need to have a valid visa and you need to be able to demonstrate that you are fully vaccinated or you have acceptable medical evidence to say that you cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.”
However, once the border does open, Andrews said the government can’t guarantee it will stay open.
“I’m not going to sit here and say absolutely guarantee because we don’t know what might be coming our way,” she said.
“No government does. No country does. We are prepared to deal with what comes our way and, hopefully, once the borders are open they remain open.”
The ABC’s business editor has questioned whether opening further will benefit the economy as much as we’d like to think.
Ian Verrender said that despite grand expectations, NSW’s decision to ease restrictions in the face of the Omicron wave did very little for the travel and hospitality sectors while pushing the state’s health sector to the brink.
A study from the University of Melbourne backs up Verrender’s claims, concluding that elimination strategies that keep borders tightly closed resulted in better outcomes for both health and the economy than simply trying to suppress the virus.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has come out in support of Western Australia’s decision to keep its borders closed, despite the federal government’s vocal disapproval of WA Premier Mark McGowan’s strict restrictions.
“I’m backing it [McGowan’s decision to postpone reopening the state] because the Premier believes that if he were to take that step at this point, the Omicron variant would be at great risk of overwhelming their health system,” Morrison said.
“The Western Australian Government is working to get themselves in a position where those borders can open, and it’s important to have a plan to do that because we want to see the country open again.
“The Western Australian economy needs it and Western Australians need it, but they also want it to be done safely.
“And that’s why I understand and support the decision he believes he had to make, and he will make the decision about when that border should open.”
Featured image: iStock/honglouwawa