The budget has hinted international borders won’t fully reopen until the middle of 2022 – significantly later than Sunday’s estimate of simply “2022”.
The budget papers read, “Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur.”
It comes as it was revealed on Sunday that Australia would move its official estimate as to when its international borders will reopen from later this year to 2022. Previously, it was penned in for later this year.
Elsewhere, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s address contained no new major announcements for aviation but revealed domestic routes have already returned to 70 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
The budget document released on Tuesday evening read, “In this budget, the government is providing additional support to keep planes in the air and to preserve an international airline capability. This builds on the $2.7 billion of support provided during the height of the crisis.
“The government is extending the successful Domestic Aviation Network Support and Regional Airline Network Support Programs until 30 September 2021.
“Already the number of weekly flights on major domestic routes have returned to around 70 per cent of pre‑COVID levels and are expected to fully recover by the end of the year.
“The government is also extending the partial Airservices Australia fee waiver and reinstating the domestic aviation security charge rebate, keeping operators’ costs low as the sector continues to recover.
“A new $200 million International Aviation Support payment will preserve an Australian international airline workforce and operational capability. This will protect up to 8,000 jobs and enable international flights to resume when borders reopen.
“The government is also ensuring businesses in regional Australia remain connected to key international markets by extending the International Freight Assistance Mechanism.
“So far this support has helped Australian businesses export nearly half a million tonnes of agriculture and seafood products valued at more than $6.6 billion.”
Treasurer Frydenberg’s revelation on Tuesday evening will likely force Qantas to push back its plan to restart long-haul flights on 31 October.
The flag carrier’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, said last month the airline would move its plans if the previous date, announced in last year’s budget, slipped.
“We have an assumption based on the borders opening. It’s in 2022,” the Tresurer said on Sunday. “We’ve got to follow the health advice, and the Prime Minister has repeatedly made that point, we don’t move ahead of the health advice.
“We’ve got to ensure that our community stays safe and when we suppress the virus as we’ve successfully done, our economy recovers, and recover strongly.”
The news comes amid increasing worries over delays to Australia’s inoculation program, caused by a shift in policy to prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to under 50s rather than the Oxford vaccine that the country has in far greater supply. The British-created jab has been linked to blood clots in a very small number of recipients.
A vaccine delay is significant to Qantas specifically because Joyce has repeatedly insisted his airline’s policy is that long-haul international travellers must be vaccinated.
Australia is also battling apathy problems with the vaccine program, with NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro suggesting people were unwilling to risk getting a jab because life has resumed without restrictions in many areas.
He urged residents to “do your bit” and said Australia needs to jab 70 per cent of the population for the virus to be kept under control.
“The reality is, and I have heard it myself, [people say] there is no virus so why bother or why take the chance?” Deputy Premier Barilaro said.
It follows NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard stating there was a “70 to 80 per cent” drop in health workers turning up for appointments since links were made between the jab and blood clots.
Qantas’ Joyce has repeatedly said he won’t let unvaccinated customers on his international flights because he has a “duty of care to our people and passengers”.