Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has hinted Australia may only open its borders to the world when a vaccine becomes “globally available”.
The comments appear to mark a hardening of the country’s position as it suggests it would need the majority of the world to receive a jab – rather than just Australia itself.
He also admitted the second wave of COVID-19 cases in Victoria has pushed back the plan to create a travel bubble with New Zealand, which the national cabinet had previously pencilled in for July.
Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, with international students, temporary visa holders and tourists banned altogether. Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for which they have to pay up to $3,000.
Speaking to multicultural media outlets in a virtual press conference, Minister Tudge said, “It’s very difficult to predict when we can reopen the borders probably again. Obviously, if there is a vaccine that is developed which become globally available that will be the game-changer.
“You can see that we have all these state border closures now and in part because everyone is nervous about Victoria and probably means it has slowed down our path to being able to open our international borders.”
Despite the closure, a pilot program to fly international students to Adelaide will begin later this month. However, Minister Tudge admitted the government had originally hoped to begin that imitative, as as well as a bubble with New Zealand, far earlier.
A small handful of temporary migrants are also due to return, he said, after his department established a new “priority” immigration list for those who have essential skills.
The insistence on a vaccine doubles down on comments made by Health Minister Greg Hunt in June.
“For the time being we are an island sanctuary,” Minister Hunt said. “I won’t put a time frame on it because there are differing views as to vaccines, for example, the University of Queensland’s molecular lab is one of the world’s leading vaccine candidates [and] it’s progressing. There are others out of Oxford, the United States, Europe, Asia.”
The struggle to allow foreign citizens to enter comes amid increasing frustration that citizens are also being denied access because stringent arrival caps have reduced availability and driven up prices.
Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote a letter to Australians stranded abroad in which he appeared to blame them for their struggles to return home – insisting he specifically instructed them to come back on 17 March.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten shot down his former rival, arguing that Aussies abroad were actually told not to come back.