New Zealand’s deputy PM blames Australia’s state border closures for trans-Tasman ‘bubble’ delay

New Zealand’s deputy PM blames Australia’s state border closures for trans-Tasman ‘bubble’ delay

New Zealand’s deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, has complained about the “roadblock of federalism” that is holding up the establishment of a travel ‘bubble’ between his country and Australia.

States such as New South Wales have begun to ease interstate border restrictions put in place to protect their citizens from the spread of the coronavirus.

However, borders in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania remain in place for domestic travellers.

Peters, who is also the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, told the Nine Network this is complicating plans to revive trans-Tasman tourism, which has been towards by both nations and lobby groups for months.

“Before we went to lockdown, we were talking about getting out of it and having a bubble of success between both countries,” Peters said. “But we’ve run into the roadblock of federalism, so to speak.

“It’s very clear that Tasmania is set to go and we should start, frankly.

“Let’s not restrain the movement between our two countries based on the slowest state in Australia.”

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham backed the criticism from Peters – a reported advocate for swift resumption of business and tourism – telling the ABC the longer states kept their borders closed, the more “pain” their economies, businesses and jobs faced.

It comes after Birmingham late last month aired his frustrations over Queensland’s interstate border policy, prompting a hit back from premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has maintained it would be up to Australia as to whether the bubble would be between New Zealand and select states, or if all internal travel restrictions would have to be removed first.

However, Ardern’s Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, expressed his own frustrations during question time on Wednesday at interstate border restrictions put in place by state premiers.

According to ABC News, Morrison urged states to put a date on when they plan to reopen, saying it was vital to the health of the economy and to airline companies.

“We need to open up these domestic borders … that occurs for South Australia, for Tasmania, for Queensland, and Western Australia,” the Prime Minister said.

“I would be hoping that at the earliest possible opportunity, states will be able to indicate the date in July that interstate travel will be open again to be able to give that certainty.”

According to the broad plan agreed to by National Cabinet on easing of restrictions, interstate travel is set to resume by July.

The news comes as commissioned economic research by the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) showed continued hard state and territory border closures are costing the nation 702 jobs a day with a per 24-hour hit to the country’s GDP of $84 million.

Ardern shoots down July trans-Tasman proposal

Meanwhile, the proposal for trans-Tasman travel to kick-off from September – which came from the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum’s (ANZLF) ‘Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group’ – now sits in the hands of Australia and New Zealand’s prime ministers.

Chaired by travel industry veteran Ann Sherry, the ANZLF’s comprehensive plan has been compiled by 40 experts from the likes of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Border Force, New Zealand’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Aviation Security Service, Qantas, and Air New Zealand.

According to The Australian, government sources say this trans-Tasman report is the most likely plan for a travel bubble to win approval.

It comes after Ardern shot down a rival plan by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry for a Canberra-to-Wellington route to kick off from July, saying she would not open up New Zealand until Australia’s COVID-19 cases further decreased.

“Australia is still dealing with cases so a little more progress is required. I’ve been really careful not to put a date,” Ardern told reporters.

“I don’t want to raise expectations, particularly with the tourism sector, without knowing what is possible. But I think it is fair to say we are all very eager. We are just eager to do it safely.”

Moreover, the Morrison government is also reportedly not ready to back the capital city plan put forward by the ACCI, Canberra Airport and other Australian and New Zealand business groups.

While the Ardern government is focused on reopening up channels between Australia and New Zealand, the Kiwi prime minister told reporters there were other surrounding countries that could come into the mix, including the Cook Islands and Taiwan.

“I think New Zealanders wouldn’t want to jeopardise where we are and put ourselves back into levels of restrictions because we haven’t been rigorous at the border, so we will be rigorous at the border,” Ardern said, noting Samoa would not yet be part of such arrangement.

“Samoa would need to want to [open] and at this point – they have had experience with measle outbreaks and so they’re taking a very cautious approach.

“Other Pacific Island nations, yes, we would love to see whether or not we’re in similar positions. Places like Cook Islands [and] Niue look to have been COVID free – you would assume, of course, that we would be looking in that direction.

“We also have to make sure that we’re getting all of the border settings right – [there’s] quite a lot of logistic work to do on the ground and that’s what we’re working on at the moment.”

Muri Lagoon in Rarotonga, Cook Islands (iStock/DarrenTierney)

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed to Travel Weekly that Australian and New Zealand tourism representatives for New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Tahiti have come together to put their support behind including the South Pacific in a travel bubble.

It is understood that the group submitted a formal letter to the offices of both the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers, outlining the benefits of such a proposal.

“Opening travel between New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific will have resounding benefits to the economies and people of New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tahiti,” New Caledonia Tourism New Zealand director Sally Pepermans said.

“We are committed to working together to foster a safe environment for travel so borders can reopen.

“We are here, we are ready to talk and most importantly we are ready to welcome our neighbours from New Zealand and Australia again as soon as possible.”

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